Seminole County citrus farm struggles with weather, disease

Meriweather Farms says cold snaps, hurricanes and greening have hit their crops hard

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – Meriwether Farms — among many other farms in Florida — has had a tough few years.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released a citrus production report, which shows Florida orange production is down 10% across the board.

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“You have problems with the juice quality, the quality of the orange itself,” Olivier Welscher, growth manager at Meriwether Farms, told News 6.

From 2021-2022, Florida citrus groves produced around 41 million boxes of oranges, but this week’s report forecasts a 56% drop for the upcoming year at only 18 million boxes.

Welscher said a disease called “greening” is to blame for this shortcoming.

“You can start to see here the bacteria impacting the leaf...” Welscher said. “Which is a bacteria that is spread by an insect that we unfortunately got thanks to global trade from Asia.”

The disease impacts trees, causing them to produce fruits that are green, oddly shaped and unsuitable for markets. These types of oranges often fall to the ground and rot.

“You end up with less boxes of fruit, and that’s a systemic problem across the whole state,” Welscher said.

Cold snaps and back-to-back hurricanes over the past few months have exacerbated the issue.

Welscher said that that part of his farm resembled a lake after Hurricane Ian caused record flooding on his property, leaving behind about 18 inches of standing water for days.

And thanks to a lower output of oranges, higher prices are taking their toll on consumers.

“So the demand cycle has probably gone up a little higher, but then the supply side has shrunk, so in the end, the price shifts, and it goes up,” he said.

Welscher said his family has owned the farm for more than 100 years, though the past few years have been the toughest.

While he stated that recent weather and diseases may be the reasons why farmers are leaving the citrus industry, Welscher is optimistic for the future of the farm.

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About the Author:

Treasure joined News 6 at the start of 2021, coming to the Sunshine State from Michigan.