Citrus crops predicted to decline again this season

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MANATEE COUNTY - If you haven't noticed yet, brace yourself for an increase in the cost of citrus produce. Prices for orange juice, and oranges and other citrus items are up because of low production.

The state of Florida is the largest citrus producer in the country, generating about 65% percent of all citrus. But the industry is in danger.

“It has an impact of the health of the tree and the health of the fruit and the viability of the fruit." Samantha Kennedy with the Manatee County Extension Office is talking about citrus greening, a disease spread by insects that is plaguing the citrus industry. "Acres within Manatee County have been eliminated, and surrounding counties as well and through the state. They've actually had to destroy and eliminate a lot of groves because of the impact."

Dean Mixon with Mixon Fruit Farms says he's familiar with the process and knows about citrus greening all too well. "The problem is its spread by an insect that has a very short life span. So to control it you have to continue spraying every five days almost."

Mixon says that process can be expensive and it's resulting in a higher overhead cost for growers.

But the expense is just part of the concern. The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued its initial forecast for 2013-2014 Florida orange crop at a total of 125 million boxes to be produced. That’s down 6% from last season.

For comparison, prior to the 2004-05 season, Florida's citrus industry was producing more than 240 million boxes of oranges a year.

"Because of the disease, a lot of the trees have been replaced. A lot of new trees have been planted and citrus takes about 7 years before you get good production off a tree," sys Mixon.

But despite the drastic decrease in citrus production, Kennedy says there is hope. "There are some concerns about the diseases, but they are being researched by the University of Florida and other institutions, and they're working to find a solution to the problem."

The state and federal government have allotted millions to research citrus greening. In the meantime, officials say the higher demand and low crop could result in an increase in prices.