Headlines in a May issue of The New York Times stated “Citrus Disease With No Cure Is Ravaging Florida Groves.” Later in the article, similar infestations of citrus groves have been reported in Arizona, California and Texas. The major concern currently is growers can lose 30 percent to 40 percent of what they pick in a year.
Florida’s citrus sector is reportedly fighting the most serious threat in its history…a bacterial disease having no known cure which has infected all 32 of the state’s citrus-growing counties.
The disease is called “citrus greening.” It was first detected in Florida during 2005. It can actually lie dormant for 3-5 years. Researchers have found that the disease is spread by the Asian citrus psyllid, an extremely small insect about the size of the head of a pin.
The bacteria carried by the tiny psyllid causes fruit to turn bitter and drop from bearing trees while still unripe. Although all citrus fruit are susceptible to being infected, oranges are impacted most heavily. The disease has progressed so rapidly in Florida this year that USDA has downgraded its crop estimates five consecutive months…an extraordinary move.
Both growers and researchers feel that if a cure is not found soon, Florida’s citrus industry could be eliminated entirely, Florida is currently the world’s second ranking producer of orange juice behind only Brazil. Florida’s citrus sector is valued at $9 billion while contributing some 76,000 jobs.
This year’s psyllid problem was intensified by the past winter’s unusually dry weather. Thus, it has aggravated further Florida’s citrus sector which has already been suffering a 15-year decline.
Good news was received last May with the announcement by Coca-Cola that it would spend some $2 billion to plant 25,000 acres of new orange groves. The company owns Minute Maid and the Simply Juice brands. It will also purchase oranges from two Florida producers…one local and the other a Brazilian company that has invested substantially in the state.
The psyllids are believed to have arrived in Florida through the Port of Miami some 10 years ago…about the same time they were discovered in Brazil. Parts of Africa and Asia are also infected.
While the bacteria does not harm humans, it devastates trees and leaves behind bitter, misshapen oranges and other citrus fruit. Both growers and researchers believe that a cure is at least 3-5 years away…even if a “silver bullet” is discovered. So baby citrus trees must currently be raised in greenhouses before being transplanted…then sprayed more frequently than before.
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