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LAKELAND, FL -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture increased its April orange crop forecast for the 2009-10 season by 600,000 boxes. Florida is now expected to produce 131.6 million boxes of oranges.

"As the season heads into the stretch run, we are starting to get a clearer picture of the effect the January freeze had on our crop," Michael W. Sparks, executive vice president and chief executive officer of Florida Citrus Mutual, said in an April 9 press release. "Overall we came through in decent shape, and with the bloom coming out, the industry is starting to think about next year."

The USDA's grapefruit estimate inched up 200,000 boxes, to 19 million.

The entire orange increase came in early and midseason varieties, which grew to 68.6 million boxes. The projection for Valencias stayed at 63 million boxes. For Florida specialty fruit, the USDA's tangelo estimate stayed at 900,000 boxes, while tangerines increased slightly to 4.1 million boxes.

The all-variety yield for frozen concentrated orange juice rose to 1.56 gallons per 90-pound box from 1.53 gallons per 90-pound box. The Valencia yield increased to 1.65 gallons from 1.58 gallons.

The Florida citrus industry creates a $9 billion annual economic impact, employing nearly 76,000 people and covering more than 576,000 acres, according to the release. Founded in 1948 and currently representing nearly 8,000 grower-members, Florida Citrus Mutual (www.flcitrusmutual.com) is the state's largest citrus grower organization.

Visit www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Florida/Publications/Citrus/cpfp.htm for the complete USDA estimate. The USDA makes its initial forecast in October and then revises it monthly until the end of the season in July.