ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – Hurricane Wilma wiped out half of Florida’s grapefruit crop and decimated its orange crop, citrus growers estimated Monday.

The damage could make Florida grapefruit scarce in stores and cause a slight rise in the price of orange juice this winter, commodities analysts said.

Florida Citrus Mutual said the storm last week knocked 17 percent of the citrus crop off the trees, causing a loss of $180 million worth of fruit.

The estimate is for fruit only and does not include tree losses and damage to barns, equipment and processing and packing facilities.

“This is a very preliminary figure that could increase as additional damage is discovered and industry losses are calculated,” said Andy LaVigne, Florida Citrus Mutual’s executive vice president.

The growers predicted a loss of 24.4 million boxes of oranges, or 13 percent of the state’s crop, and 11.3 million boxes of grapefruit, 47 percent of the crop.

In years past, Florida has been the world leader in grapefruit production. Almost all of the Florida’s oranges are processed into juice.

Commodities analysts Boyd Cruel of Alaron Trading and Kevin Sharpe of Basic Commodities predicted orange juice prices for U.S. consumers will probably increase over the next several months by 5 percent to 10 percent, much as prices did last year after three hurricanes hit Florida’s citrus areas.

“You have a crop that just got diminished right as harvest was coming around here,” Sharpe said. “You have quite a bit of fruit that was supposed to be harvested on the ground.”

The expected size of this year’s grapefruit crop after Wilma may make fresh grapefruit scarce in U.S. grocery stores for another year. Fresh Florida grapefruit also is a popular export, especially to Japan.

Last year’s hurricanes contributed to the spread of citrus canker, a bacterial infection that can weaken citrus trees. State agriculture officials are removing 70,000 acres of citrus.

Florida’s $9 billion citrus industry also is contending with citrus greening, a deadly tree disease spread by insects.



On the Net:

http://www.flcitrusmutual.com/content/



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