Florida’s orange crop continues to be decimated by greening disease, and Thursday, federal forecasters dropped the orange production estimate for the 2017-18 season by 3 million boxes from last month’s estimate.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said that Florida growers will produce 67 million 90-pound boxes of oranges, down 17 percent from the 81.5 million boxes harvested last season. In the 2014-15 season, Florida’s commercial growers produced 96.9 million boxes of oranges.
Thursday’s forecast represents a decline of more than 70 percent since the peak of citrus production at 244 million boxes during the 1997-98 season.
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.
In 2016 Putnam issued a crisis declaration regarding growers’ Section 18 application to the Environmental Protection Agency, which allowed the immediate use of certain antimicrobial treatments to combat greening.