Florida Orange-Crop Estimate Cut by USDA on Disease, Drought

Florida’s orange crop, the world’s second largest, will be 0.7 percent smaller than forecast in March, the government said, as damage from a bacterial disease and dryness spreads.

The state will produce 138 million boxes of the fruit in the harvest that started in October and runs through June, down from 139 million forecast a month ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said today in a report. The average estimate of seven analysts and traders in a Bloomberg News survey was 137.97 million boxes. Florida produced 146.7 million boxes in the previous season.

“The crop continues to suffer from a number of factors but mostly citrus greening,” John Ortelle, a vice president for McKeany-Flavell Co., a broker in Oakland, California, said in a telephone interview before the report was released. “The lack of rain also has been more severe than normal, even though most of these orchards have irrigation systems.”

Citrus greening, a bacterial disease first found in the state in 2005, starves a tree of nutrients, causing the fruit to shrink and drop prematurely. According to a study by economists at the University of Florida in Gainesville, greening has reached 32 citrus-growing counties, causing $4.5 billion in economic damage.

“Rainfall was generally light, worsening the drought conditions in all of the citrus producing regions,” the USDA said.

Precipitation levels in March across growing areas ranged from 36 percent to 68 percent of the 30-year averages, according to Paul Markert, a meteorologist with MDA Information Systems Inc. While recent storms have brought relief to some groves, central Florida will need at least 8 inches (20 centimeters) of rain to overcome drought conditions, Markert said in a telephone interview from Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Orange juice for May delivery was unchanged at $1.4765 a pound at 9:48 a.m. on ICE Futures U.S. in New York. The commodity has gained 26 percent this year on expectations for a smaller Florida crop amid signs of rebounding U.S. demand for the beverage.

Yields in Florida will average 1.61 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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