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Impact of the 1989 Freeze on the Florida Citrus Industry

The Florida Citrus Industry has been a vital part of not only Florida’s agricultural history, but also its heritage during the last four centuries. To the knowledge of modern scholars, the Orange crop is not native to the state of Florida. Seedlings and young plants were brought to the Spanish Colony of St. Augustine sometime between 1565 and 1579 from Spain. At the time of 1579, it is noted that Menendez reported an abundant growth of the citrus crop in the St. Augustine settlement.

From this point on, the planting of the citrus crop expanded across the state. In the 1770s, Jesse Fish started to commercialize the crop. The crop became essential to Florida’s identity. During the citrus industry’s rise, the crop has experienced several low points, such as the 1894-95 “big freeze.” The crop's history in Florida makes it clear that the rise and the fall of the Florida Citrus industry correlate directly with severe freezes or lack thereof.

The Florida citrus industry was at an all-time high in the 1970s, but the long-term effects of a series of freezes in the 1980s, climaxing with the 1989 Christmas freeze, have aided in the gradual decline of the citrus industry in Florida. By looking through the eyes of citrus growers during the 1989 Christmas Freeze it becomes clear how demoralizing the Christmas freeze was for the overall industry.  

Today the citrus crop faces freezes, disease, and global competition which could result in the ultimate demises of the Industry in Florida in the next few decades. It is important to preserve the heritage of the crop.