Florida orange growers are warning consumers that a coldsnap and a lingering hurricane season have squeezed their crops dry this season.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursdaypredicted its smallest yield of oranges in 16 years at 135 million boxes. If the low forecast comes true, consumers can expect to pay more for oranges and juice.

Before the last two hurricane seasons devastated the southern U.S. coast, Florida was averaging about 220 million boxes each weighing 40 kilograms with only an abnormal blip in 1990 when a uncommon freeze stalled production. Last year, the state produced 147.9 million boxes.

Already, orange juice prices have climbed about nine per cent over last year and consumers have responded by purchasing less (a seven per cent dip in litres sold).

Florida, second only to Brazil in global orange juice production, produces more than 90 per cent of all juice consumed in the United States. Meanwhile, Canada imported $127 million worth of orange juice and concentrates in 2004 alone, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

If theforecast proves to be correct, it will be the state's smallest harvest since 1990, when an abnormal freeze damaged the crops.

Farmers have also struggled with three diseases that have killed trees and damaged fruits along with a series of droughts that have slowed production.

With files from the Associated Press