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Florida orange crop seen plunging to 71-year low after Irma

A damaged orange tree lays on its side at the Alico Inc. Bereah Grove in Frostproof, Florida, on Sept. 11, 2017. Bloomberg photo by Daniel Acker.

Florida's orange production will plunge 21 percent to a 71-year low after damage wrought by Hurricane Irma devastated the harvest, while output of cotton also suffered in storm-hit areas, government figures showed.

Orange growers in Florida, the largest U.S. producer, will harvest 54 million boxes in the 2017-18 marketing year, the least since 1947 -- an era when citrus irrigation was rare -- the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a report Thursday, Oct. 12. A survey of analysts conducted by Bloomberg indicated a crop of 58.2 million boxes. A box weighs 90 pounds, or 41 kilograms.

Irma, which dropped as much as 17 inches of rain on citrus- growing areas in a 24-hour period, made it impossible for farmers to reach their groves, with trees destroyed and fruit dropping to the ground unharvested, the USDA said.

Cotton yields also declined in states battered by Irma in September and Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas and the Gulf Coast about two weeks earlier. Estimated productivity in Texas, the biggest U.S. grower of the fiber, fell to 745 pounds per acre from 757 pounds predicted in September, with much of the state's growing area unaffected by Harvey. Georgia, which was in Irma's path, saw yields fall to 900 pounds per acre, down from an estimated 1,013 pounds.

U.S. cotton production this year may be 21.1 million pounds, up 23 percent from last year on higher acreage and down 3 percent from last month's estimate.

Irma caused an estimated $2.5 billion in damage to agriculture, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said Oct. 4. Preliminary estimates show $760.8 million in damage to the citrus industry. Texas's state farm agency has yet to release a damage estimate for Harvey, which hit the Gulf Coast region in late August.

"The path of Hurricane Irma could not have been more lethal than what it was," Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Wednesday. Groves are still under water in southwest Florida and state lawmakers are calling for immediate federal aid for producers.

Highlights from the USDA's separate monthly World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report included:

- 2017 U.S. corn production may be 14.3 billion bushels, up from the September estimate, as estimated yields increase by 1.9 bushels per acre.

- 2018 U.S. soybean supplies may be 430 million bushels, less than analysts estimated, as the USDA lowered its estimated supply for the beginning of the current marketing year.

- World wheat inventories next year may be 268.1 million tons, higher than any analyst forecast, on larger estimated crops in Russia, the European Union and India.

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