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Forecast dismal for citrus

Florida's grapefruit crop this year could be the worst since the 1930s, officials said.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | December 17, 2004

Florida's grapefruit crop this year could be the worst since the 1930s, officials said.

Hurricane damage - coupled with citrus canker that is being found in an increasing number of counties - will also bring the worst orange crop in 13 years.

State and federal agriculture officials issued a forecast earlier this month that was even poorer than anticipated.

To make matters worse, this year's oranges and grapefruits will be smaller due to a warm, dry spell that preceded the hurricanes.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Florida's orange crop forecast for 2004-2005 would be 168 million boxes. That would be nearly one-third less than last season's 242 million boxes.

The grapefruit crop forecast is 13 million boxes - the smallest since the 1935-1936 season, and two-thirds smaller than last year's 40.8 million boxes.

Orange juice prices are expected to increase 5 to 10 percent over the next six months, with grapefruit prices jumping even more.

The dismal crop forecasts have sparked concern among Florida hurricane responders that small citrus businesses and farm workers could bear the economic brunt.

Hundreds of small citrus growers are out of business. The impact hit three counties particularly hard: some 25,000 farm and citrus industry workers in Hardee, DeSoto and Polk counties lost 75% of their crops.

Three-quarters of the farm-industry workforce in Florida are migrants from South America, Mexico and Caribbean islands.

Florida's migrant workers, ethnic communities and ethnic people have been statistically less likely to register for federal aid - even though they may be eligible for it, according to a FEMA official. But, he said, thanks in part to such groups as Church World Service, more than 6,000 such families have registered. "These are people who didn't know about the help or they were afraid to come out and ask," he said.

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