Florida orange crop estimate increases 7 percent, crop at historic lows

citrus greening photo

Staff photo, Bruce Bennett

For the second consecutive month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture raised its estimate of the 2015-2016 Florida orange crop, predicting growers will produce 76 million boxes, a 7 percent increase.

But as greening disease continues to decimate Florida citrus, this season’s crop is still expected to be the smallest in 52 years. In the 1964-65 season, Florida growers produced 58.3 million 90-pound boxes of oranges.

Production has declined from a peak of 244 million boxes during the 1997-1998 season.

 Over the last decade, the state’s commercial groves have been crippled by citrus greening, a bacterial disease also known as Huanglongbing. Spread by the Asian citrus psyllid, it attacks a tree’s vascular system and can kill it within two years. There is no known cure.

The psyllid was first detected in the U.S. in Delray Beach in June 1998, but the disease wasn’t found in Florida until 2005, when it was first identified in Homestead.

But Tuesday, the industry was glad for the slight increase.

 “It’s nice to be in expansion rather than reduction mode while knowing growers are still producing a quality crop,” said Michael W. Sparks, executive VP/CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual. “But our industry remains at historically low production levels as we continue to battle HLB, or citrus greening.”

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.

During the 2014-2015 season, Florida produced 96.8 million boxes of oranges. Visit http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Florida/Publications/Citrus/cpfp.htm for the complete USDA estimate.

The USDA’s estimate of the 2015-2016 Florida grapefruit crop remained at 10.7 million boxes. Specialty citrus decreased a fraction to 1.79 million boxes. The yield for frozen concentrate orange juice (FCOJ) is 1.42 gallons per 90-pound box.

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