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Citrus forecast holds steady

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The projected harvest for Florida's struggling citrus industry experienced little change over the past month. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's estimate for Florida's orange harvest this season remained at 72 million 90-pound boxes.

The number is unchanged from November but represents a 12 percent drop from last growing season. Meanwhile, growers are now forecast to produce 9.3 million boxes of grapefruit, down 3 percent from the November report. If the grapefruit number holds through the season, the crop would be down 14 percent from the prior harvest. 

The monthly forecasts have been closely watched as growers continue to battle deadly citrus greening disease, which was discovered in Florida citrus trees in 2005. Throughout the decade before the disease was found, the state's orange harvest annually topped 200 million boxes, with a high of 244 million boxes in the 1997-1998 season. Friday's forecast news was greeted with some optimism by the industry.

"In the past couple of seasons we've seen dramatic drops in the estimate during the early months following the October forecast," Shannon Shepp, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus, said in a prepared statement. "The fact that we remain stable is a positive sign for growers and consumers as we continue to provide the world's best 100 percent orange juice."