Since the introduction of sweet oranges to Florida with the establishment of the settlement at St. Augustine in 1565, the citrus industry has been steadily moving south. Prior to the “big freeze”, of 1894–95, the main citrus growing region was the hammocks of north-central Florida. The major citrus producing counties in the 1890’s were Orange, Alachua, Volusia, Lake, Putnam, Hillsborough, Pasco, Brevard and Polk, in that order. In 1889–90, Alachua county accounted for about one-third of the total citrus production. The freezes of the 1890’s caused the citrus belt to move south a hundred miles or so. By 1955, the leading counties were Polk, Lake, Orange, Hillsborough, Indian River, Highlands, Brevard and Volusia. Due to the strong influx of new residents in the 1950’s, the best drained areas along the coasts and central portion of the state were being converted to residential sub-divisions. Citrus growers were forced into less desirable locations. An attempt was made to expand citrus plantings along the upper west coast, but the winters of 1957–58 and 1962–63, with their severe freezes, again forced the industry south. The latest freezes of 1977 and the mid-1980’s have had a profound effect on the industry. In 1986–87 the major citrus producing counties were Polk, St. Lucie, Indian River, Highlands and Hendry. Lake County produced 40 million boxes of fruit in 1975–76 and less than 2 million in 1986–87. The most recent freezes have renewed interest in the undeveloped pastureland of southwestern Florida. As of January, 1988, 300 square miles of citrus have been permitted in Hendry, Glades, Collier and Lee Counties. Applications for another 100 square miles are pending.
Paper published with permission.