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Irma crushed our hopes for a good year after a decade of struggles, Florida citrus official says

  • The executive director of Florida's Department of Citrus says consumers can expect price increases for orange juice after Hurricane Irma.
  • "We've got an awful lot of citrus on the ground. We've got trees out of the ground," says Shannon Shepp.
  • Florida was already in a decade-long battle with "greening," a devastating citrus plant disease.
  • "This was supposed to be the year where we saw gains, rather than losses, for the first time in about a decade," Shepp adds.

Consumers can expect price increases for orange juice after Hurricane Irma battered through Florida's citrus industry.

"We've got an awful lot of citrus on the ground," said Shannon Shepp, executive director of Florida's Department of Citrus. "We've got trees out of the ground. Neither of those things are good signs for the Flordia citrus industry."

Florida, the world's second-largest orange juice producer, was already in a decade-long battle with "greening," a devastating citrus plant disease that blocks nutrition in trees and has no cure.

"This was supposed to be the year where we saw gains, rather than losses, for the first time in about a decade," Shepp said Friday in an interview on CNBC's "Squawk Box."

Florida had been expected to produce more than half of the U.S. oranges and nearly half of the nation's grapefruit, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's forecasts in July.

Fruit sits on the ground below an orange tree at the Alico Inc. Lake Patrick Grove in Frostproof, Florida, Sept. 11, 2017.
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Fruit sits on the ground below an orange tree at the Alico Inc. Lake Patrick Grove in Frostproof, Florida, Sept. 11, 2017.

Earlier this week, the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association said Irma caused losses of 50 to 70 percent of Florida's citrus crop in portions of South Florida. It also affected fields in the south and central areas where other crops grow, particularly strawberries and tomatoes.

Last week, a commodities expert told CNBC that Irma could be the "last straw" for Florida's orange industry, citing years of producers already struggling with their crops.

In anticipation and immediately following Irma, orange juice futures spiked 25 percent. But on Tuesday, two days after Irma's landfall in Florida, orange juice prices started trending lower. Despite the initial Irma surge, orange juice has seen about a 22 percent decline so far this year.

If Florida uses any of the damaged oranges, they won't be used for juice. Instead, the fruit will be used for products such as cleaners, oil and animals feed, Shepp said.

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