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Florida Orange Crop Estimate Cut 0.7% as Disease Shrivels Fruit

Florida’s orange crop, the world’s second biggest, will be 0.7 percent smaller than forecast in January, the U.S. government said, as early blooming and a plant disease cause fruit to shrivel and drop from trees.

The state will produce 141 million boxes of the fruit in the harvest that runs from October through June, down from 142 million forecast a month ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said today in a report. The average estimate of eight analysts and traders in a Bloomberg News survey was 140.5 million boxes. Florida produced 146.6 million boxes in the previous season.

“The answer for the rapid fruit drop continues to be a warmer-than-normal season” and the plant disease known as citrus greening, Jerry Neff, a branch manager at Allendale Inc. in Bradenton, Florida, said in an e-mail before the report.

Temperatures were 5 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit above normal across the Citrus Belt in January, Donald Keeney, a senior meteorologist at MDA Information Systems Inc. in Gaithersburg, Maryland, said yesterday in an e-mail. Trees are blooming about one month early, meaning there will be less juice and more dropped fruit, said Dean Mixon, the president of Mixon Fruit Farms Inc., a grower in Bradenton, Florida.

Citrus greening, a bacterial disease first found in the state in 2005, starves a tree of nutrients, causing the fruit to drop prematurely. Oranges are often smaller, especially in younger trees.

Orange juice plunged 38 percent in the past year through yesterday amid slowing U.S. demand and rising supplies. The March contract rose 0.7 percent to $1.22 a pound at 9:23 a.m. today on ICE Futures U.S. in New York.

Yields in Florida will average 1.62 gallons per box, down from 1.63 gallons a year earlier, the USDA said.

A box weighs 90 pounds, or 41 kilograms. Brazil is the biggest orange producer.

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