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Updated: 10/14/2012 02:11:32PM

Crop growth expected to go up 5 percent

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Sen. Bill Nelson speaks of his accomplishments in Congress obtaining research funding to help combat the Citrus Greening Disease outbreak in Florida.


Citrus growers waiting in line for their breakfast.


Every year, members of the local citrus industry gather to enjoy breakfast while listening to the annual crop estimates from the USDA.


Guests congregating outside the barn waiting for the breakfast to begin.


As the estimates were announced over the radio, they were written on a whiteboard for all to see.

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The citrus crop in Florida was predicted to grow by 5 percent in the coming year, farmers heard at the annual crop estimate breakfast Thursday.

The 2012 Florida Citrus Crop Estimate Breakfast was held about 14 miles from Bartow, down a secluded dirt path off of Marshall Road where nestled within the orange trees is Ray-Bob Groves.

Early Thursday morning, as the sun peaked over the horizon and dissipated the morning fog, more than 60 visitors gathered under its aluminum canopy for the event.

Every year members of the local citrus industry attend the breakfast to hear the United States Department of Agriculture announce its annual crop estimates.

This year’s guests included Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, and state legislators Steve Crisafulli and John Wood.

Around 8:30 a.m., after enjoying a hearty breakfast, every guest became silent as they listened intently to the radio broadcast from Arcadia announcing the estimates for the 2012-13 season.

This year, Florida has been estimated to produce 154 million boxes of oranges, a 5 percent increase from last year.

It was also estimated to produce
74 million boxes of navel oranges – a slight decrease from last year – and
80 million boxes of Valajea oranges – a 10 percent increase.

Other Florida citrus estimates include 20.3 million boxes of grapefruit – an 8 percent increase – 12 million boxes of tangelos – a 4 percent increase – and 44 million boxes of tangerines – a 3 percent increase.

“It’s a manageable number,” said Andrew Meadows, Director of Communications for Florida Citrus Mutual. “We had a couple good years in a row, and we’re expecting another good year this year.”

FCM has hosted the breakfast for five years. With 8,000 growers in membership, the group represents Florida’s citrus industry.

“We expect to produce a quality crop, we grow the best citrus in the world here in Florida, and now that we got the estimate behind us, growers are going to get back at what they do best and that’s growing Florida citrus,” Meadows said.

The increase in citrus production was good news for citrus growers, especially in light of a citrus disease outbreak.

Spread by the Asian citrus psyllid, Huanglongbing (HLB), or Citrus Greening Disease, has been devastating Florida citrus crops including those in Polk County.

More than $3.63 billion in revenue and 6,000 jobs have been lost in Florida over the past six years due to the disease, according to a University of Florida study released earlier this year.

But despite a lower number of bearing trees this season, the remaining citrus trees have seen an increase in their fruit, thus leading to this season’s higher fruit production.

“I think we came within in the range of expectations of most growers,” said FCM president Mark Wheeler. “The prime estimates that came out a couple months ago seemed a little on the high side for most growers, so I think this number is a little more in line than what our first estimates were.”

Before the estimates were released, Nelson opened the breakfast with a speech where he spoke of his efforts in Congress to get research funding to help combat the greening epidemic.

He said that he had helped obtain $11 million from the USDA and a permanent citrus research trust fund expected to pass the Senate later this year.

Needless to say, he was pleased with the citrus crop estimates.

“It looks like it’s going to be a good year,” he said. “Barring some major disaster, which we don’t anticipate, it looks like the prices are going to be good, and they are going to have a good, healthy crop.”

Every year guests participate in a guessing contest over the orange and grapefruit crop estimates.

This year, three men guessed correctly: Marty McKenna, Steve Curuso, and Jason Pate.

McKenna was selected as the winner by Nelson and received a pair of field binoculars as his prize.

“I thought there might be a few lush trees, a few more drops, so I picked 154 out of the air and happened to get lucky,” McKenna said.

The winner of the grapefruit estimate was Mark Wheeler.