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The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released its January orange crop forecast for the 2008-09 season, reducing its earlier estimate by 3 million boxes, to 162 million boxes.

"This is a manageable crop, and hopefully the reduced production will spur higher prices to growers because right now they are facing very high input costs associated with disease pressure and fertilizer prices," Michael W. Sparks, executive vice president and chief executive officer of Florida Citrus Mutual, said in a press release. "We are in the middle of a very challenging season."

The USDA makes its initial forecast in October and then revises it monthly until the end of the season in July. In 2007-08, Florida harvested 170.2 million boxes of oranges throughout the season.

The USDA maintained its prediction that 23 million boxes of grapefruit will be produced this season.

A lower forecast for early and midseason varieties and Navels in Florida accounts for the estimate's decrease. The early and midseason crop is now projected at 84 million boxes, down from 87 million boxes. The Valencia projection is unchanged at 78 million boxes this season. Florida specialty fruit stayed the same. The USDA predicted 1.5 million boxes of tangelos and 4.9 million boxes of tangerines. The yield for from-concentrate orange juice is expected to be 1.62 gallons per 90-pound box, up from 1.58 gallons.

The Florida citrus industry creates a $9.3 billion annual economic impact, employing nearly 76,000 people and covering more than 576,000 acres. Founded in 1948 and currently representing nearly 8,000 grower members, Florida Citrus Mutual is the state's largest citrus grower organization.