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Fla. Orange Crop Forecast Cut 2.7 Percent by Disease

New York — The orange crop in Florida, the world’s second-biggest grower, will be 2.7 percent smaller than forecast in December because plant disease has damaged groves, the government said. The drop was bigger than analysts expected.

The state will produce 142 million boxes of the fruit in the nine-month season ending in June, down from 146 million forecast a month ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said today in a report. The average estimate of eight analysts and traders in a Bloomberg survey was 145.16 million. Florida produced 146.6 million in the previous season.

“The amount of fruit per tree is lower, and fruit size is also down,” Jimmy Tintle, chief executive officer at GreenKey Alternative Asset Services in Longwood, Fla., said in a telephone interview before the report was issued. The plant disease, called citrus greening, “has been spreading for years and is cutting into production,” he said.

The bacterial disease, first found in the state in 2005, starves a tree of nutrients, causing fruit to drop prematurely. Oranges are often smaller, especially in younger trees.

“Several variables such as rainfall, disease pressure, fruit size and significant fruit drop has made it a very tricky year for crop forecasting,” Michael W. Sparks, the chief executive officer of Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual, the state’s largest grower group, said in an emailed statement.

Orange-juice futures for March delivery rose 0.4 percent to settle at $1.128 a pound at 1:35 p.m. on ICE Futures U.S. in New York, capping a third straight gain and the longest rally since Dec. 19. The price is down 50 percent from a record $2.2695 reached on Jan. 23, 2012.

Juice yields in Florida will average 1.61 gallons per box, down from 1.63 gallons a year earlier, the USDA said.

A box of oranges weighs 90 pounds, or 41 kilograms. Brazil is the biggest producer.