ORLANDO — Florida citrus growers lost more than 4 percent of their orange crop and more than 3 percent of their grapefruit crop during last month's freezing weather, according to estimates released Tuesday.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast put Florida's orange crop in February at 129 million boxes, down from the estimate of 135 million boxes in January. Each box weighs about 90 pounds.
Growers were relieved the damage wasn't more extensive, given that Florida endured eight straight days of below-freezing temperatures last month.
"We were lucky considering it was the most sustained cold air mass that we know of in modern citrus history," said Doug Bournique, executive vice president of the Indian River Citrus League. "I think everybody is breathing a sigh of relief that we still have what we have because we still have a good crop going."
Half of the orange crop losses came from Valencia oranges, whose fruit size is expected to be smaller than in previous crops. The Florida frozen concentrated orange juice yield estimate is 1.56 gallons per box, down from 1.60 gallons in January.
The grapefruit crop estimate for February was 18.8 million boxes, down from 19.5 million boxes in January.
If these estimates hold steady, Florida's orange crop will be 21 percent smaller than last season's crop and the grapefruit crop will be 13 percent smaller.
The freezing weather reduced Florida's tangerine crop by almost 15 percent from 4.7 million boxes in January to 4 million boxes in February. The tangelo forecast remained unchanged from January at 900,000 boxes. If these estimates remain unchanged, this season's tangerine crop will be 4 percent higher than last season's crop but the tangelo crop will be the smallest since 1962.
Florida is the nation's largest orange producer. The bulk of the state's fruit is used to make orange juice.