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USDA estimates Florida's citrus yield at 54 million boxes

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a rosy prediction for Florida's orange crop yield — but Florida stakeholders don't believe it. At 54 million boxes, the Thursday federal estimate is nearly double the figure that citrus trade organization Florida Citrus Mutual projected previously.

The federal figures, which were announced on a noon conference call Thursday, are one of the first official indicators of the scope of damage that Hurricane Irma inflicted on the state's citrus industry.

They are also significantly sunnier than industry groups say they should be. In a survey of Florida growers conducted after Hurricane Irma, Florida Citrus Mutual estimated that Florida's orange yield would be 31 million boxes, the lowest count since 1942.

Florida orange crop expected to be lowest in 75 years

Ahead of the release, Adam Putnam, commissioner for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said Wednesday in Washington, D.C., that he puts "zero stock" in the federal figures.

"There's no way they have an accurate count of the estimate they'll release tomorrow based on the continued damage that's falling out from Hurricane Irma," he said, "and the fact that they pulled their limb counters out of the groves at a time when they didn't have an accurate picture of the long-term damage to the trees and to the crop."

Check back for updates.

Contact Malena Carollo at mcarollo@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo on Twitter.

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