USDA reporting Florida's lowest citrus harvest in 24 years

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LAKEWOOD RANCH, Fla. — This year's Florida orange crop is approaching the fruit's lowest harvest in 24 years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The 2013-2014 orange forecast is 110.0 million boxes, down 4% from last month, and 18 percent less than last season's final production figure.

Orange harvesting ends in June, and if the crop doesn't decline further, it will barely exceed the 110.2 million orange boxes harvested in 1989-90 following the worst freeze in Florida citrus history.

Citrus is big business in Florida. Citrus growers gave Florida 66 percent of the total U.S. market share. About 95 percent of the state's orange crop is used for juice.

The news will likely contribute to higher prices for Florida oranges and juice at supermarkets.

"When I hear about a low citrus forecast, naturally, we are all worried about the overall industry. It's such an important part of Florida's economy," said Mac Carraway, the president of SMR Farms in Lakewood Ranch.

SMR Farms provides oranges to some of the biggest players in the industry, like Tropicana. Carraway says citrus greening is the main cause of this year's low harvest. Greening is an incurable bacterial disease carried by an insect, which can kill a citrus tree. Farmers around the state are experiencing the detrimental impact.

"I think research is the key to solving this problem and to return the industry to its normal state," said Carraway.

Through the recently passed Farm Bill, the government will be providing funding for researching the disease.