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Economic bright spots for Orange Juice, tourism

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November 23rd, 2018

Some positive news for two cornerstones of Florida’s economy: Orange yields from the state’s long-suffering citrus industry are projected to jump 76 percent over last year, when citrus greening and Hurricane Irma devastated the crop. And tourism continues at a furious pace, as evidenced by the traffic numbers at Tampa Bay’s two main airports. Challenges remain — including competition from Brazil and Red Tide — but these are positive developments the two industries can build upon.

Tampa International Airport, which has added new airlines and routes, saw 21 million passengers pass through over the last year. That’s the first time the airport’s traffic exceeded 20 million. At St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, passenger, traffic is up 13 percent over last year. The Times’ Richard Danielson recent reported that the Pinellas airport is headed for its sixth straight year of double-digit passenger growth.

That’s positive change despite a summer of dreadful headlines about blue-green algae fouling waterways around the state and a Red Tide algae bloom that reached local beaches and has lingered. Dead fish and other sea life piled up on the sand, the odor driving away patrons from hotels and restaurants. State and local tourism officials smartly pivoted from marketing Florida’s white sands to focusing on culture — museums, craft beers, local restaurants — and crafting a post-Michael campaign that highlights parts of the Panhandle that have re-opened or were relatively unaffected by the storm. That responsiveness is vital to keeping tourism humming amid the uncontrollable factors that nature brings.

The long-term outlook for Florida citrus remains uncertain. Greening, a disease that attacks the roots of citrus trees and eventually ruins their fruit, still has no cure. It has caused such steep declines in production year after year that the very survival of Florida’s iconic industry has been called into doubt. Then Hurricane Irma delivered a knock-out punch last fall, leveling $760 million (conservatively) worth of Florida citrus in every county where it grows. The yield was a record low of 45 million boxes of oranges. That’s what makes the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2018 forecast so encouraging: 79 million boxes, which far outpaces even 2016.

The bitter aftertaste for growers: increased supply means lower prices. The Wall Street Journal reported that all those extra boxes of oranges pushed orange juice futures down 13.5 percent since August. Getting Florida’s citrus industry back to health will take more than a single season of strong production, but the 2018 forecast provides some relief for an industry that has faced only hardship lately.

As this year winds down, Florida is still coping with the damage from a hurricane that struck more than a month ago while battling the continued fallout of ongoing environmental disasters. It’s a hopeful sign that two mainstay industries are weathering the challenges.

 - Tampa Bay Times.

See Also: Coffee, Cocoa, Cotton, Orange Juice, Sugar
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