'The hits just keep on coming' to Florida's citrus industry as a winter storm pounds the East Coast

  • A winter storm that struck the Southeast is the latest blow to an already struggling Florida citrus industry.
  • Late last year, Hurricane Irma caused losses of 50 to 70 percent of Florida's citrus crop in portions of South Florida.
  • Florida was already in a decade-long battle with "greening."
  • "This is pretty much the knockout year for Florida citrus," state official Shannon Shepp says.

A powerful winter storm that struck the Southeast this week is the latest blow to an already struggling Florida citrus industry, a state official told CNBC on Thursday.

Heavy snow and high wind pounded the Southeast on Wednesday, dumping snow on Florida's capital for the first time in three decades and damaging crops. The governors of Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia declared states of emergency, warning residents to expect icy roads and freezing temperatures.

The storm was making its way to Maine on Thursday, knocking out power and icing over roadways along the way.

Late last year, Florida's hopes for a good year in juice production were crushed after Hurricane Irma caused losses of 50 to 70 percent of Florida's citrus crop in portions of South Florida. The storm losses were initially pegged at $761 million, but that number has since grown.

"This is pretty much the knockout year for Florida citrus," said Shannon Shepp, executive director of Florida's Department of Citrus. "We're doing everything we can to make this American icon survive, and it's like the hits just keep on coming."

Icicles hang from oranges Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, at Bellamy Grove in Inverness, Fla.
Matthew Beck | The Citris County Chronicle | AP
Icicles hang from oranges Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, at Bellamy Grove in Inverness, Fla.

Florida, the world's second-largest orange juice producer, was already in a decade-long battle with "greening," a devastating citrus plant disease that blocks nutrition in trees and has no cure.

"We did start with citrus greening. Then Hurricane Irma came as we were just getting ready to be able to show the world we could start to cope with greening," Shepp said in an interview on "Squawk Box." "And now, after Hurricane Irma ... we have these cold temperatures two weeks into winter."

The Sunshine State is expected to collect 46 million boxes of the fruit this season, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said, the smallest crop since 1945.

"You have growers who are trying to make decisions for next year's crop, trying to make sure there is a crop for American orange juice next year and they just don't have what they need," Shepp said.

Despite the recurring problems, Shepp said she believes in a decade the U.S. will still see Florida as an orange juice state.

"I believe all of this at the end of the day will get worked out," she said.

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