By Doug Ohlemeier, The Packer

While Florida should see an even smaller juice orange harvest, the latest crop forecast shows increased production of Florida grapefruit and specialty oranges.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture in its March 9 estimate reported Florida would produce 132 million equivalent boxes of oranges this season, down 11% from last season but 42% below the state’s typical production.

The change from its report a month earlier came from the early-midseason and navel category, which is expected to produce 67 million boxes this season, compared to last year’s 75 million boxes. Valencias remained at 65 million boxes.

The USDA predicts this season’s orange harvest could be the state’s lowest since the 110 million boxes Florida produced in the 1989-90 season which was hit by severe freezes.

Florida normally produces 226 million boxes of juice oranges. Typically, 9 million boxes or 4% of the oranges ship to fresh-market channels.

The USDA boosted its grapefruit production from 26 million boxes in its Feb. 9 report to 28 million boxes, 45% more than last season’s harvest. Still, this year’s grapefruit production would be 38% smaller than the state’s usual 45-million-box average.

“The quality of the colored grapefruit has been excellent this year, indicated by the fact that more has gone fresh than processed,” the report noted.

As the season progresses, however, processing demand may overtake fresh utilization, the USDA reported. About 40% of Florida’s grapefruit normally ships fresh.

Specialty oranges — tangerines — increased from 4.6 million boxes in February to 4.8 million boxes in March, up 13% from last season, but still down 23% from the state’s normal 6.2 million-box tangerine production.

The USDA raised its honey tangerine movement by 200,000 boxes from February to March. The statisticians said the variety has experienced a growth surge since December.

The season should also bring larger-sized valencias than previous years, the USDA reported.

Colored and white grapefruit were also reported to be sizing at higher than normal levels.

At 166 million boxes, Florida’s total citrus production is down 40% from the state’s normal 281 million box production.