By Dawn Krebs
TREASURE COAST -- During the week of March 19, the United States Department of Agriculture approved the purchase of up to $4.3 million of Florida grapefruit juice from the Indian River Citrus League for the country's Child Nutrition and Domestic Food Assistance programs.
The Indian River Citrus League stretches 200 miles from Daytona Beach to West Palm Beach, and is made up of packinghouses, citrus dealers and processing plants.
The announcement came after a letter was sent by Congressman Patrick Murphy (FL-18) and Representative Tom Rooney (FL-17) to the USDA showing their support to the Citrus League's request to be part of the national program.
"The Florida citrus industry represents an important part of the state's economy," the letter read, in part. "A robust citrus industry is critical to the state of Florida."
This comes at a time when the Florida grapefruit season is looking to be one of the smallest yields the industry has seen in some time.
The February estimate released on March 8 by the USDA lowered the grapefruit production to 17 million boxes for the season. The droppage was the highest so far in a season not affected by a significant weather event, and the fruit this season has been the smallest since keeping track of the season back in the 1960s. For comparison, the 2009-10 seasons yielded more than 20 million boxes of grapefruit.
"As we reflect on the importance of agriculture to our nation, I cannot emphasize the important role Florida citrus plays in the state's economy," said Rep. Murphy. "The grapefruit industry has been hard hit by invasive pests and diseases, and I applaud the approved purchase of grapefruit juice, which will not only promote healthy eating, but also support this important industry during this difficult season."