The overall March forecast is 9.38 million tons, a 3 percent decrease on the 1 February estimation and 27 percent below last season's final utilization figure.
In Florida, the drop is double this; a forecast of 153 million boxes (6.89 million tons), which is down 6 percent from last month and 37 percent below the 2003-04 season.
Early and midseason varieties in Florida are forecast at 81.0 million boxes (3.65 million tons), down 4 percent from last month and 36 percent below the previous season.
The drop rate, at 18 percent, is above the past ten seasons for the early-midseason fruit.
Florida's Valencia forecast is 72.0 million boxes (3.24 million tons), down 8 percent from the February forecast and 38 percent below last season's final utilization. Florida's average Valencia drop rate is increased from last month to 24 percent. Although not a record for a non-freeze year, it is the highest drop rate since the 1990-91 season.
Valencia fruit size is less than projected last month and is smaller than nine of the last ten seasons.
USDA statistician Jorge Garcia-Pratts, explained to FoodNavigatorUSA.com in January that the terrible storms last year were one of the key reasons for the high drop in the orange harvest. However, he added that before the atrocious weather hit, farmers had forecast that 2004/05 was going to be a bumper crop and this could be a further reason for the decline. "Before a big crop the fruit tends to be smaller and this, in conjunction with the storms which stressed the trees, could be responsible for the reduced crop," he explained.
However, he noted that this has not caused a shortage of fruit because there was a record production last year.
"Processors had a large inventory and are combining last and this year's crop," he said, though noted that prices have been pushed above the norm.
Susan Pollack, the agricultural economist specializing in citrus fruits at the Economic Research Service told FoodNavigatorUSA.com, that about 95 percent of the oranges in Florida go to make orange juice.
"While growers can average about $8 per 76-pound box for fresh oranges during an average season, they are not able to cover their production and transportation costs for those oranges they sell for processing," she said.
Garcia-Pratts added that it was too early to tell whether there would be any effect on next year's crop, but thought it unlikely as most of the trees damaged by the storm were older ones and therefore, he suggested would have likely been replaced in any case.
"There are too many variables to take into consideration at present."