USDA decreases estimate of Florida orange crop

LAKELAND - The U.S. Department of Agriculture now forecasts the 2013-2014 Florida orange crop at 115 million boxes, down 5 percent from its December estimate.

The USDA estimated early-mid orange varieties at 54 million, down 2 million and Valencia at 61 million, down 4 million from December, according to a press release. Florida Citrus Mutual blamed the decrease on fruit drop caused by citrus greening disease.

"Once again citrus greening rears its ugly head," said Michael W. Sparks, executive VP/CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual, referencing a bacterial disease spreading throughout Florida's citrus regions. "We are in an unprecedented situation dealing with this disease and today's crop estimate only emphasizes how important it is for research to uncover a solution."

The USDA makes its initial estimate in October of each year and revises it monthly as the crop takes shape until the end of the season in July. However, the federal government shutdown delayed the initial estimate until Nov. 8.

During the 2012-2013 season, Florida produced 133.6 million boxes of oranges.

The USDA's estimate of the 2013-2014 Florida grapefruit crop is now 16.5 million boxes, down 200,000 boxes from December. Specialty fruit is now at 4.4 million boxes, also down 200,000. The yield for frozen concentrate orange juice (FCOJ) remained the same at 1.61 gallons per 90-pound box.

The Florida citrus industry creates a $9 billion annual economic impact, employing nearly 76,000 people, and covering about 550,000 acres. Founded in 1948, Florida Citrus Mutual is the state's largest citrus grower organization.