On October 12, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its initial citrus crop forecast for the 2011-2012 season, estimating Florida will produce 147 million boxes of oranges, a 5 percent increase from last season.

To usher in the new season, Florida Citrus Mutual hosted a crop estimate breakfast at Ray-Bob Groves in Alturas.

A host of VIPs attended, including Governor Rick Scott, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Senator JD Alexander, and Rep. Denise Grimsley. All told, about 70 growers, industry representatives and elected officials came to Bob Stallings’ beautiful farm to hear the estimate live on Southeast AgNet radio and to eat eggs, grits and biscuits and gravy.

Florida’s Natural was nice enough to supply delicious single servings of orange and grapefruit juice. Grower Larry Black won a portable grill for guessing closest to the orange estimate, while Faye Estes nailed the grapefruit estimate and won a pair of high powered binoculars.

For a photo slideshow of the breakfast go to www.flcitrusmutual.com and follow the link on the front page.

Besides the camaraderie, the Florida citrus industry had some quality time with the governor in a grove. He was extremely responsive to our issues and promised to keep the lines of communication open between the industry and his office. I was able to personally talk to him about immigration reform, the OJ tariff, Chapter 601 and citrus research support.

We’ve now had the governor attend two high profile events with us in the past four months, and I’m confident we are developing a strong relationship with his administration that will pay off when decisions are being made in Tallahassee. This is what we do best at Mutual.

The USDA’s estimate did not come as a surprise. We had good rain over the summer and a large bloom in the spring, so the report is pretty close to what we expected. I’ve been in groves across the state and I can tell you this season Florida will once again produce the finest citrus in the world.

At this size, with our inventories, we would hope the market will continue to put upward pressure on grower returns. In addition to the orange estimate, the USDA predicts Florida will harvest 20.1 million boxes of grapefruit in 2011-12, up slightly from the 19.75 million boxes produced last season. 

The forecast for early and midseason varieties in Florida is projected at 74 million boxes, and Valencias are projected to total 73 million boxes. For Florida specialty fruit, the USDA predicts 1.1 million boxes of tangelos and 4.7 million boxes of tangerines. The yield from concentrate orange juice (FCOJ) is expected to be 1.60 gallons per 90-pound box.

The numbers hopefully foretell another successful season for the Florida citrus grower. And if the crop estimate breakfast is any indicator, Mutual should also have a good year in Tallahassee lobbying on issues important to the grower.