ORLANDO, Fla. — This season's U.S. orange crop is expected to be 10 percent smaller than last season's yield, agriculture officials said Friday, though consumers likely won't have to pay more for their orange juice.
Estimates released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture put the overall U.S. orange crop at 8.25 million tons, down 10 percent from last season's final count. If the estimate holds true, the 2009-2010 orange crop will be 18 percent lower than the one two seasons ago.
However, orange juice producers already have about a half-year's worth of inventory in storage from last season, offsetting any chance of a shortage given the expected smaller crop, experts said.
"There should be plenty of juice for consumers this year," said Mark Brown, a senior research economist at the Florida Department of Citrus. "Prices will continue in the range they are today."
The Florida orange crop this season is expected to be 136 million boxes, each weighing 90 pounds, down 16 percent from last season's final count. Florida is the nation's largest orange producer and grows about three-quarters of the U.S. crop. About 90 percent of the state's fruit is used to make orange juice.
Below-average rainfall and freezing temperatures earlier this year are to blame for much smaller amounts of fruit per tree this season.
The Florida frozen concentrated orange juice yield estimate is 1.63 gallons per box, down slightly from last year. The estimate from Florida grapefruit was 18.8 million boxes, each weighing 85 pounds, a 9 percent decrease. The crop estimate for Florida tangerines was expected to be 27 percent higher than last year at 4.9 million boxes.
The decrease in Florida's orange crop has little to do with citrus greening, an insect-borne bacteria that Florida growers had feared would devastate their crops, officials said. The disease requires costly spraying and screening, and is even then difficult to detect. The state and federal governments have diverted millions of dollars into potential research solutions.
The disease's spread has been slower than expected, said Ken Keck, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus.
"Greening is not necessarily tearing through the industry," Keck said.
The orange crop in California, which produces most of the fruit sold fresh, is expected to be 55 million boxes, each weighing 90 pounds, up 13 percent from last season. In Texas, orange production is expected to be down 1 percent from last season at 1.45 million 90-pound boxes.