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Florida orange crop down nearly 30 percent from 2014-15

The U.S. Department of Agriculture lowered its estimate of the 2015-16 Florida orange crop to 69 million boxes, nearly 30 percent below last year’s crop of 96.7 million boxes.

"The lower estimate is a reflection of the times and the challenges our growers face," Michael W. Sparks, executive vice president and chief executive officer of Florida Citrus Mutual, said in a press release. "We knew this year's crop was going to be the lowest in years but this is a bit surprising."

The USDA dropped 1 million boxes off early-mid varieties, now pegging them at 36 million boxes and 4 million boxes off Valencias, which put that variety at 33 million boxes.

Florida growers are now battling citrus greening, or HLB, a bacterial disease vectored by the Asian citrus psyllid. It attacks the vascular system of a tree and can kill it within two years. Citrus greening is endemic to Florida and has reduced production more than 50 percent over the past decade.

"The silver lining is that the lower crop should put upward pressure on grower returns, which they need to cover ever-increasing production costs," Sparks said. "I do know our growers are resilient and we are going to keep grinding away."

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. In October the USDA's initial 2015-16 Florida orange forecast had the crop at 80 million boxes. In the past two months the estimate has dropped about 14 percent.