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Fla. orange crop to be the smallest in a decade

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Florida will have the smallest orange crop in a decade after a series of hurricanes blew fruit off trees and flooded groves in the state that produces 75 percent of the nation's citrus, a federal forecast released yesterday shows.

Florida's grapefruit crop will also be down the Department of Agriculture survey said.

The diminished crops probably will increase prices growers earn for their fruit, but have little effect on the price of fresh oranges, since most of Florida's oranges are turned into juice.

Juice drinkers, too, will be cushioned from price increases because of a large inventory held by processors from the second-largest crop last season. Still, the cost of futures contracts for frozen orange juice concentrate is expected to rise.

Orange-producing belts of south-central Florida and the grapefruit-rich district along the Atlantic Coast were slammed by hurricanes Charley, Frances, and Jeanne. Hurricane Ivan spared Florida's citrus-growing areas, striking the Panhandle instead.

The storms are the biggest blow to Florida's $9 billion citrus industry since the freezes of the 1980s.

The orange crop will total 176 million 90-pound boxes, a 27 percent decrease from last season, while the grapefruit crop will total 15 million 85-pound boxes, down 63 percent from last season, according to the USDA estimate.

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