No cure: Greening continues to decimate Florida citrus

This photo shows what oranges with greening disease look like.

This photo shows what oranges with greening disease look like.

Florida’s citrus crop continues to shrink as fatal greening disease kills more and more trees.

The last U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast on Feb. 9 for 69 million 90-pound boxes of oranges was unchanged from the January estimate. The next forecast is due March 9.

The fewer oranges produced, the more likely it is that juice prices will rise. Florida is the largest producer of orange juice for the U.S. market, followed by Brazil.

The Florida grapefruit crop estimate was reduced to 10.5 million boxes from 10.8 million boxes in the February forecast.  The tangelo crop remained steady at 400,000 boxes, and the tangerine crop increased to 1.5 million boxes from 1.4 million.

Florida growers are battling Huanglongbing, also known as greening disease, a bacterial disease that is not harmful to humans or animals but kills citrus trees.

Earlier this month the USDA awarded $20.1 million in grants to university researchers for research and extension projects to help citrus producers fight greening. The disease has also been detected in Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina and Texas and several residential trees in California, Puerto Rico, the U.s. Virgin Islands and 14 states in Mexico.

“Citrus greening has affected more than 75 percent of Florida citrus crops and threatens production all across the United States,” said  U.S. Secretary of Agriculture  Tom Vilsack.

The University of Florida places the industry’s losses since 2007 at approximately $7.8 billion in revenue, 162,200 citrus acres and 7,513 jobs.

In September 2005, USDA scientists confirmed the first U.S. detection of greening on samples of pummelo leaves and fruit from a Miami-Dade County grove. It is now endemic to Florida and found in every citrus-producing county.

The symptoms include yellow shoots, mottled leaves,  twig death, tree decline and reduced fruit size and quality. Affected fruit tastes bitter, medicinal and sour. Symptoms don’t show up for an average of two years following infection.

The disease is spread by a tiny insect called the  Asian citrus psyllid, that was first detected in the U.S. in Delray Beach in 1998. The psyllid transports the greening pathogen infected trees to healthy trees as they feed on the plant. They have mottled brown wings and sit at an angle to the shoot or leaf on which they feed.


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