Government shut down may impact harvest of Florida citrus crop


The government shut down may have ended last week, but the Florida citrus crop could become a casualty of the stoppage that lasted more than two weeks.

"If we don't get it done in the next few weeks, there will be a crisis," said Andrew Meadows of  Florida Citrus Mutual in Lakeland.

The Florida citrus crop is hanging in limbo. Thousands of trees will produce millions of pieces of fruit that will soon be ripe for the picking. 

Meadows explained that much of the work picking comes from individuals who live outside the United States.

"Each year we have about ten thousand guest workers, most of them are from Mexico, that come in for a set period of time and harvest our crop and then go back home," he said.

Those temporary workers are admitted through the Department of Labor's H-2A application process. 

A process that came to a standstill during the Federal Government shutdown.

"The shutdown was at about the worst time possible.  When you're producing a perishable crop, timing is everything.  So when our fruit's ready to be picked, we need to have pickers," Meadows said.

So what's it mean for the consumer in a few months down the road when they go to buy a bottle of fresh Florida orange juice? Well, it may be too early to tell.

"We've got millions of gallons of juice right now in tank farms.  So, there is an inventory.  But we're getting down to the wire.  There's not going to be any affect on the consumer at this point," Meadows explained. 

Citrus contributes about $9-billion a year to Florida's economy. State leaders are urging the Department of Labor to expedite the process.  

"We're pushing hard.  We're using every political avenue that we can; and we're working with other states that this affects.  So, we're not falling on deaf ears. We think we're going to get something done and get our crops out of the fields," Meadows said.









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