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Orange production up a bit, latest estimate shows

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Squeeze ’em while you got ’em: Florida’s orange crop “increased slightly while grapefruit production held steady,” the Florida Department of Citrus announced Wednesday.

That news is according to the final forecast for the 2016-17 season by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

“The July report projected the state’s orange crop increased by 200,000 boxes to 68.7 million for the 2016-17 season,” a news release said. “The grapefruit crop held steady at 7.8 million boxes.”

“Ending the season on a positive note is a big deal because it shows there is still investment in Florida’s signature crop,” said Shannon Shepp, the Citrus Department’s executive director. “It takes quite serious effort to produce every single piece of fruit. Every additional box shows promise for Florida citrus.”

The monthly forecasts are best guesses; the real numbers come after the growing season ends. It’s those figures that tell the story of citrus in Florida.

The state’s citrus industry has been hit by the citrus greening epidemic. The so-far incurable disease attacks the fruit, causing it to turn green and bitter, and eventually killing the tree.

Greening is caused by a jumping plant louse, the Asian citrus psyllid, and the bacteria it hosts. The tiny bugs feed on citrus leaves and infect the trees with the bacteria as they go. Researchers have been looking into ways to cure the disease or to grow a strain of citrus resistant to the bacteria.

The first crop forecast for the 2017-18 growing season will be in October, the release said.

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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