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Wilma Could Cost Florida Citrus Industry $180 Million

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Hurricane Wilma could result in the loss of an estimated $180 million worth of Florida citrus, the equivalent of about 35.7 million boxes of fruit, Florida Citrus Mutual said this week, according to published reports. The growers group's preliminary estimates are confined to crop damage and don't include the destruction of packing houses, equipment, and other infrastructure. Florida Citrus Mutual also estimated Hurricane Wilma had blown 17 percent of the citrus crop from trees.

Included in the total loss are an estimated 24.4 million boxes of oranges, or 13 percent of the state's crop, and an estimated 11.3 million boxes of grapefruit, or nearly half of the state's crop. Florida has in the recent past led the world in grapefruit production. Almost all Florida oranges are made into juice, making up 80 percent of the American orange juice supply and over a third of the world's supply. Brazil is the world's top producer of orange juice.

Now analysts predict that orange juice prices are set to rise 5 percent to 10 percent over the next few months, as they did in the wake of a series of hurricanes in the same area last year.

Before Wilma roared into southwest Florida, the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasted that 190 million boxes of oranges and 24 million boxes of grapefruit would be produced in the upcoming growing season.

Last year Florida experienced its smallest orange crop in 13 years and the smallest grapefruit crop since the 1935-1936 season.

U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla. said he would work to expand an agricultural recovery bill worth millions of dollars, which he initiated after growers sustained losses from Hurricane Katrina in late August, to cover Florida citrus and vegetable producers who suffered losses from Wilma.

Florida Citrus Mutual e.v.p. Andy LaVigne, noted that damage to the citrus crop could be even more extensive, from additional fruit falling from trees and diseases affecting citrus. The $9 billion Florida citrus industry is currently dealing with the citrus canker bacteria, which last year's hurricanes helped spread, and citrus greening, a fatal tree disease spread by insects.
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