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Florida Oranges Avoid Freeze Damage, Forecasters Say

Dec. 14 (Bloomberg) -- Florida probably avoided damage to its orange crop, the largest in the U.S., as overnight freezing temperatures were less severe than expected, forecasters said. Orange juice futures declined.

Temperatures near Orlando in central Florida dropped to around 29 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 1.7 degrees Celsius) at 7 a.m. local time, just before sunrise, said Jason Nicholls, a senior meteorologist at AccuWeather Inc. Tampa remained above freezing all night, said Jim Dale at British Weather Services.

Orange juice for January delivery fell 5.2 cents, or 3.1 percent, to $1.6175 a pound by 8:09 a.m. on ICE Futures U.S. in New York. Prices yesterday rose to the highest since May 2007 after Florida declared a state of emergency because of the prospect of severe cold and crop damage. Governor Charles Crist said “extreme temperatures” threatened the state with a “major disaster.”

Overnight was “not nearly as cold as the weather service was calling for,” Nicholls said. “If there was any effect on the citrus crop, it was very small. If there was, it was very localized. For most areas it was not a big deal.”

Daytona Beach

Daytona Beach, north of Orland, had temperatures as low as minus 3.3 degrees Celsius, with freezing most of the night, making it the area “probably of most concern,” according to Dale at High Wycombe, England-based British Weather Services.

Oranges can be damaged when temperatures fall below 28 degrees Fahrenheit for several hours, according to AccuWeather.

“You need under 28 degrees for four hours and that did not happen,” said Shawn Hackett, president of Hackett Financial Advisors Inc. in Boynton Beach, Florida. “The key to a hard freeze is calm winds. Winds were gale force last night. In the end it was not cold enough to cause major damage.”

Some areas of Florida may be subject to freezes through Dec. 15, Crist said in a statement on Dec. 10, citing National Weather Service forecasts.

Tonight “will be chilly but not nearly as cold” as the past night because of cloud cover coming in, and temperatures are expected to rise in coming days, Nicholls said.

Florida will produce 143 million boxes of oranges in the harvest that began in October and runs into July, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said on Dec. 10. That was down from an October estimate of 146 million boxes.

Last year, output was 133.6 million boxes, the second-smallest crop in two decades, after a January freeze damaged fruit. Brazil is the world’s biggest orange grower.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rudy Ruitenberg in Paris at rruitenberg@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Claudia Carpenter at ccarpenter2@bloomberg.net.

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