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Good news for Florida citrus, but industry still recovering

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's orange forecast is good news for Florida; however, the industry has a way to go before it can be called a recovery.

USDA pegged its initial 2018-19 Florida total orange estimate at 79 million boxes, a 76 percent increase from last year when Hurricane Irma and disease ravaged the crop.

The USDA reported early and mid-season varieties at 34 million boxes while Valencias tallied 45 million boxes.

"It's been a very difficult year for growers no doubt and it's good to hear production for this season is expected to be up," said Michael W. Sparks, executive vice president and chief executive officer of Florida Citrus Mutual. "Growers continue to show resilience and a commitment to replant and get the industry back on its feet. But we still have significant work to do to increase production back to a point where we can support infrastructure and generate the income necessary to keep growers in business. I am optimistic the 2018-19 season is the beginning and we will get the Florida citrus industry back to sustainability."

During the 2017-18 season, Florida produced 45 million boxes of oranges down dramatically because of Hurricane Irma. On Sept. 10, 2017 Irma moved through the center of the state hitting Florida's major citrus producing regions with up to 120 mile per hour winds. The hurricane blew fruit off the tree and caused widespread tree damage.  The industry's production was already reeling from a disease known as HLB or citrus greening.

The USDA's estimate of the 2018-19 Florida grapefruit crop is 6.7 million boxes. The USDA also reported specialty citrus at 1.2 million boxes.