Florida citrus crop unharmed by cold weather

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Cold weather overnight did not harm oranges and other fruit across Florida's citrus-growing regions, the state's leading growers association said on Tuesday.

"We came through fine. It didn't get cold enough, for long enough anywhere in all our different regions," said Andrew Meadows, a spokesman for Florida Citrus Mutual.

Typically, citrus can be damaged by four or more hours of temperatures below 28 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 2 Celsius) but Meadows said that had not happened, even in northern citrus-producing regions of Florida.

Low temperatures in the heart of the orange production region ranged from the middle 30s Fahrenheit to low 40s, said U.S. meteorologist World Weather Inc.

"Similar to slightly cooler tonight with no significant damage expected," said Drew Lerner, senior agricultural meteorologist at World Weather, in an email to Reuters.

Meadows said, "Actually, chilling days like this can be good for the fruit. It sweetens them up. It's supposed to heat up a couple of degrees, one or two degrees tonight, so we're optimistic," Meadows said.

He did not elaborate, but even when orange groves are mauled by a freeze the fruit is usually salvageable but will yield less juice than normal.

"While temperatures did drop below freezing across far northern portions of the citrus belt, lows were mainly in the lower 30s in these areas and any damage is likely to be very limited," said Kyle Tapley of MDA Weather Services in an email.

Expectations for a potential frost on Monday caused the frozen concentrated orange juice market on ICE Futures U.S. to jump more than 3 percent to a three-week high on concern about Florida's citrus groves, though they later pared gains.

On Tuesday, the benchmark March frozen concentrated orange juice futures gave back these gains and dropped by 1.10 cents, or 0.8 percent, to $1.4250 per lb by 10:34 a.m. EST (1534 GMT) in thin dealings.

Florida accounts for about 75 percent of the U.S. orange crop and as much as 40 percent of the world's orange juice supply. It is second to Brazil in orange juice production.

The unwelcome cold weather comes after Florida lost billions of dollars in revenues from the bacterial crop disease "citrus greening" that is killing orange trees faster than they can be replaced. It makes the fruit unpalatable and kills trees within a few years, setting the state's orange production on a downward trend.

In a November report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast Florida's orange production for the current 2013/14 crop year to drop 6 percent from the prior year to 5.63 million tons. It forecast the state's frozen concentrated orange juice yield up 1 percent from a year ago.

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