(Sept. 23, 12:55 p.m.) Total citrus acreage in Florida is projected to be lower in 2008 than in any year since the state began keeping records in 1966.

About 577,000 acres of oranges, grapefruit and specialty citrus are being grown in the Sunshine State this year, according to a Sept. 19 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The second-lowest year on record was last year, when about 621,000 acres were harvested.

By variety, about 497,000 acres of oranges are expected to be harvested, 57,000 acres of grapefruit and 23,000 acres of specialty fruit.

The report was not broken down into fresh and processed acreage, but Andrew Meadows, director of communications for Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual, predicts acreage declines would likely affect fresh and processed markets proportionally.

About 90% of Florida’s citrus goes to processing markets, Meadows said.

Disease problems, development pressure and lingering effects from a spate of hurricanes several years ago are the chief causes of the decline, said both Meadows and the USDA report.

Greening and canker are the diseases that continue to significantly affect citrus acreage in Florida, Meadows said.

And real estate development, while not as strong as in recent years, continues to gobble up citrus land, he said.

The residual damage from four hurricanes that struck Florida hard in 2004 and 2005 also continue to take a toll on acreage, he said.