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Dianne Halliday

Forecast: South Florida Dry Season May See Fair Share Of Damp Days

Forecast: South Florida Dry Season May See Fair Share Of Damp Days

October 31, 2014

Above-average wet season rainfall across some key areas of South Florida has positioned water levels well at the start of the dry season. The 2014-2015 dry season is forecast to have normal to above-normal rainfall, officials announced at a joint briefing by the South Florida Water Management District and the National Weather Service.

Dry Season Forecast

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center forecast calls for normal to above-normal rainfall conditions.
Among the forecast highlights for the 2014-2015 South Florida dry season:

  • A 60% to 65% chance of El Niño conditions developing in the fall and winter. An El Niño, a warming of waters in the equatorial Pacific, can increase the amount of rainfall in South Florida
  • Normal storminess/severe weather with five to six events
  • Normal freeze of at least one per season

Wet Season Update

A District-wide average of 33.58 inches of rain fell from Orlando to the Florida Keys between May 27 and Oct. 5. This represents 108% of average, or 2.45 inches above average.
The Lower Kissimmee Basin experienced the largest amount of rainfall above average in the District, with 35.58 inches, representing 129% of average, or 7.92 inches above average. This rainfall significantly contributed to the flow of water into Lake Okeechobee.
Rainfall totals included:

  • Upper Kissimmee, 39th wettest out of 77 years
  • Lower Kissimmee, 22nd wettest out of 77 years
  • Lake Okeechobee, 35th wettest out of 77 years

Lake Okeechobee received 29.49 inches of rain during the wet season, representing 112% of average, or 3.21 inches above average. The District continues to send water south of the lake to help prevent major releases to the South Florida’s coastal estuaries.

Counties along the east coast all experienced above-average rainfall, ranging from 4.02 to 1.11 inches above average, from Martin and St. Lucie counties to eastern Miami-Dade County.

Areas in the Southwest Coast and Caloosahatchee experienced slightly below-average rainfall, with 1.07 and 3.37 inches below average, respectively.

Citrus blight tightens grip on Florida Growers

 

Citrus blight tightens grip on Florida growers

 Last year, citrus greening was blamed for a loss of about 20 percent of the expected harvest, industry observers say. More worrisome, it’s causing more and more citrus farmers to pull part of their groves out of production of Florida’s iconic fruit — or get out of the business entirely.

 Agricultural researchers continue to work to come up with a cure, which isn’t on the horizon, or at least a way to control citrus greening, which every day seems more likely.

 Preliminary predictions say that next season’s yield will be down dramatically from years past, though some industry analysts dispute that. Over the past two decades, citrus growers have abandoned 300,000 acres, leaving a total of about 60 million trees on 500,000 acres.

 Of that 300,000 acres lost, about 135,000 acres were abandoned because of citrus greening, said Mike Sparks, executive director of the Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual, the largest citrus industry advocate in the state.

 Still, growers are hopeful about the research that’s going on, he said. That optimism is fueled by a new U.S. farm bill that, Sparks said, includes $125 million over the next five years to be spent on research into citrus greening.

 Researchers have come up with some methods that extend the lives of infected citrus trees so they can continue producing fruit and keep the $9 billion industry afloat long enough for a cure to be found. One therapy involves heating sick trees to 128 degrees with material wrapped around the tree that uses the sun’s heat. Tenting the trees for two or three days seems to delay the tree’s demise.

 “It doesn’t kill the disease, but if you can do that, it gives another four or five years of productivity,” Sparks said.

 He says other research into disease-resistant root stock also is promising.

 “Encouragement,” he said, “is in the air.”

 A hybrid peach tree, that a few years ago was being touted as a replacement for the Florida citrus crop has lost its luster, Sparks said.

 “A peach crop here is a very nice niche market,” he said. “Some growers have five or 10 acres here and there, but I doubt we will see 500,000 acres of peaches. That’s never going to replace the citrus crop here. The soil, the heat, the humidity, the rain; it’s all perfect for citrus.”

 The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has imposed a quarantine on shipping out of state any citrus plant material, including nursery stock, to curb the spread of citrus greening to other states or countries.

 The USDA called citrus greening “one of the most serious citrus diseases in the world.” Greening already has decimated crops in Asia and South America.

 The citrus greening bacteria do not pose a health threat to humans, livestock or pets. The disease is transmitted from infected plants to healthy plants mainly by an insect called a citrus psyllid, which is the size of the head on a pin.

 Symptoms associated with the disease first appear as yellow shoots or blotchy mottling and/or yellowing of the leaves, says the USDA on its website.

 “As the disease progresses, the trees suffer excessive leaf drop and foliage becomes sparse with fewer or smaller leaves and tip dieback,” the website says. “The disease also affects the fruit, causing it to ripen unevenly and become lopsided, visibly smaller and bitter-tasting.

 “Once the host plant becomes infected,” the website says, “there is no cure for the disease.”

 Harold Browning is the chief operating officer with the Florida Citrus Research and Development Foundation, established by citrus growers around the state to work with the University of Florida in researching ways to benefit the citrus industry.

 He said the citrus greening research is encouraging and that finding a cure in time to save the industry may be the biggest obstacle.

 “We’re doing everything possible to push the science faster,” he said.

 A cure may be years away, so the focus of the research now is to keep the trees from dying so they can keep them producing tasty and juicy fruit.

 There are different approaches, he said, mentioning the heat therapies as well as chemical solutions.

 “Some antibiotics can knock the bacterium back the same way antibiotics work in humans,” he said. “They can slow down the decline and stabilize the conditions of the trees.

 “That’s the major thrust of the foundation’s work right now, and it’s proven effective,” he said. “None of these things are ultimate solutions. I hate to use the term ‘Band-aids,’ but these are methods to keep the productivity around while more durable solutions can emerge.”

 The disease has taken its toll on growers, particularly small, family-owned groves.