Coke plans major expansion of Fla. orange groves

| Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Coca-Cola Co. says it is spending $2 billion to support the planting of 25,000 acres of new orange groves in Florida, a move officials are lauding as a major investment in the Sunshine State's citrus industry.

The announcement was made at a news conference at Coca-Cola's juice production plant in Auburndale. Coca-Cola owns the Minute Maid and Simply juice brands.

About 5 million trees will be planted in the new groves, believed to be the largest citrus addition in the state in at least 15 years. The groves will be located in Polk, DeSoto and Hendry counties in central Florida.

Company officials say the new groves and resulting juice production are expected to add about 4,100 jobs to Florida's economy.

The move also is seen as a boost to historically declining acreage devoted to citrus production in Florida. During the state's past housing boom, many citrus farmers sold their land to developers. Since 1997, total citrus acreage has fallen by 25 percent, from 600,000 acres to 450,000 acres, because of the disease, pests and other pressures, according to Florida Citrus Mutual.

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