SHOP PRODUCTS
Houzz Logo Print
ilovemytrees

FL citrus industry battles potent foe: a disease with no cure

ilovemytrees
10 years ago

May 10, 2013 at 10:46 AM ET
This photo provided by the California Department of Food and Agriculture shows an Asian citrus psyllid (Diaphorina citri), an insect about one-eighth ...
AP
This photo provided by the California Department of Food and Agriculture shows an Asian citrus psyllid (Diaphorina citri), an insect about one-eighth of an inch long.

AVON PARK, Fla. " Florida’s citrus industry is grappling with the most serious threat in its history: a bacterial disease with no cure that has infected all 32 of the state’s citrus-growing counties.

Although the disease, citrus greening, was first spotted in Florida in 2005, this year’s losses from it are by far the most extensive. While the bacteria, which causes fruit to turn bitter and drop from the trees when still unripe, affects all citrus fruits, it has been most devastating to oranges, the largest crop. So many have been affected that the United States Department of Agriculture has downgraded its crop estimates five months in a row, an extraordinary move, analysts said.

With the harvest not yet over, orange production has already decreased 10 percent from the initial estimate, a major swing, they said.

“The long and short of it is that the industry that made Florida, that is synonymous with Florida, that is a staple on every American breakfast table, is totally threatened,” said Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who helped obtain $11 million in federal money for research to fight the disease. “If we don’t find a cure, it will eliminate the citrus industry.”

The relentless migration of the disease from southern to northern Florida " and beyond " has deepened concerns this year among orange juice processors, investors, growers and lawmakers. Florida is the second-largest producer of orange juice in the world, behind Brazil, and the state’s $9 billion citrus industry is a major economic force, contributing 76,000 jobs.

The industry, lashed over the years by canker disease, hard freezes and multiple hurricanes, is no stranger to hardship. But citrus greening is by far the most worrisome.

The disease, which can lie dormant for two to five years, is spread by an insect no larger than the head of a pin, the Asian citrus psyllid. It snacks on citrus trees, depositing bacteria that gradually starves trees of nutrients. Psyllids fly from tree to tree, leaving a trail of infection.

Concerted efforts by growers and millions of dollars spent on research to fight the disease have so far failed, growers and scientists said. The situation was worsened this season by an unusual weather pattern, including a dry winter, growers said.

“We have got a real big problem,” said Vic Story, a lifelong citrus grower and the head of The Story Companies, which owns 2,000 acres of groves in Central Florida and manages an additional 3,000 acres, all of which are affected at varying levels. “It’s definitely the biggest threat in my lifetime, and I’m 68. This is a tree killer.”

Before this year, the losses and increased costs of fighting the disease had already taken a toll on Florida’s citrus industry, which has been in decline for 15 years. In a 2012 report, University of Florida agricultural analysts concluded that between 2006 and 2012, citrus greening cost Florida’s economy $4.5 billion and 8,000 jobs.

Some orange packers and small and midsize growers have sold their groves, razed them for development, or simply abandoned them. Others have postponed replanting lost trees, which take five years to mature, until they know whether a cure will be found. Many more, including the largest growers, are doing what they can to survive; they say they are optimistic they can hold on long enough for researchers to find a treatment.

“This year was a real kick in the gut,” said Adam Putnam, Florida’s agriculture commissioner and a former United States representative, whose family owns citrus groves. “It is now everywhere, and it’s just as bad as the doomsayers said it would be.”

But there was good news this week, too. Coca-Cola announced it would spend $2 billion to plant 25,000 acres of new orange groves. The company, which owns Minute Maid and the Simply juice brands, will buy fruit from two growers in Florida " one local and the other a Brazilian company that has invested in the state.

“To see such a dominant player in the beverage market double down on the future of orange juice in Florida is a real morale boost to the industry and a sign they have confidence we will find a cure for greening,” Mr. Putnam said.

Across the Wheeler Farms groves here in Avon Park and beyond, the evidence of greening is obvious on some trees. Leaves turn yellow, then fall off, leaving behind sparse foliage. That is often the beginning of the end.

The psyllids arrive
The psyllids are thought to have arrived through the Port of Miami a decade ago, scientists said. And while the bacteria does not harm humans, it devastates trees, leaving behind bitter, misshapen oranges.

Greening has crippled citrus production around the world, including in Asia and Africa, researchers at the University of Florida said. A decade ago, psyllids were discovered in Brazil, which, with its abundant rural land, has tried to outrun the disease by removing countless trees and planting new acres.

Aware of the potential consequences, Florida’s thousands of growers have aggressively moved to curtail its spread. They have spent $60 million over six years, money raised mostly from a self-imposed tax, to create a research foundation seeking to eradicate greening. The federal Department of Agriculture also has dedicated millions of dollars to the effort.

More money is coming. The Florida Legislature this month approved $8 million toward greening research, a record sum. And Mr. Nelson is pushing a bill in Congress to set up a research trust fund using money from a tariff on imported orange juice.

Florida is no longer alone in its battle against greening. The disease has spread to Texas, California and Arizona, where officials are anxiously watching developments in Florida. They are also joining the fight to speed up research.

“It’s worrisome that we are still three to five years away, even if we find a silver bullet,” said Mark Wheeler, a grower and chief financial officer of Wheeler Farms, which owns 2,500 acres. “We are to the point now that to stay alive in this type of environment you have to be on top of it 24/7.”

As is, he said, some growers can lose 30 to 40 percent of what they pick in a given year.

Researchers are working on several tracks, among them hindering the insect’s reproductive cycle or its ability to transmit the disease, and developing resistant trees. But they are also advising growers on short-term options.

“Now there is a real sense of urgency,” said Michael W. Sparks, the chief executive officer of Florida Citrus Mutual, a trade organization for growers. “We are not doing research to publish a paper but research we can get on the back of a tractor.”

In Florida, growers have had to transform how they raise orange and grapefruit trees, a shift that has more than doubled their costs over the past decade.

Baby citrus trees must now be raised in greenhouses before they can be transplanted. And most growers douse their groves with a more powerful cocktail of nutrients and spray insecticide more frequently, which has helped slow the disease’s progress. At first, they tried removing acres of full-grown, fruit-bearing trees in the hopes of eradicating the disease. That failed because psyllids simply flew over from neighboring groves that were either abandoned or not following the same costly regimen of fertilizer and insecticide.

James Graham, a professor of soil microbiology at the University of Florida who works with the grower-funded Citrus Research and Education Center, said next year’s harvest would be crucial. It will show whether this year’s statewide early fruit drop was an aberration " a bad combination of quirky weather and greening " or proof that the disease is truly entrenched.

Mr. Story, for one, is not giving up. He is scooping up groves that are for sale and plans on planting 300 new acres.

“We think we can do it; we know we can do it,” he said. “We just need somebody to figure out how we can kill this bacteria in these trees.”

This story first appeared in the New York Times on May 9 under the headline: "Citrus Disease with No Cure is Ravaging Florida Groves."

Copyright © 2013 The New York Times

Here is a link that might be useful: NBCNews

Comments (16)

  • joeinmo 6b-7a
    10 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    I always buy Florida's Natural, the only 100% American grown orange juice.

    It tastes the best too, hopefully we can support them and they can beat this disease.

  • ilovemytrees
    Original Author
    10 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    We drink Homemaker orange juice. It is also made from only Florida oranges. It is $1.98 for a half gallon. We think it is the best tasting orange juice.

    It is very nice of Coca-Cola to spend $2 billion to plant 25,000 acres of new orange groves.

    This post was edited by ilovemytrees on Sun, May 12, 13 at 10:00

  • arktrees
    10 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    IT'S A HOAX!!! There isn't any real problem. Dirty rotten stinking greedy scientist are just trying to get even more government money wasted. Just out to take money out of your and my pocket on useless rules and regulations trying to strangle American business.

    And in case you did not catch on. SARCASM!!!

    Arktrees

  • cyn427 (z. 7, N. VA)
    10 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    Just read about this in the Washington Post. Sounds awful. Our farmers and fruit growers have enough troubles without this. I hope they find the solution quickly.

  • Toronado3800 Zone 6 St Louis
    10 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    Are orange trees like apple trees where there are several dominant cultivars cloned millions of times all over the state?

  • ilovemytrees
    Original Author
    10 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    Arktrees,

    It is not a hoax.

  • arktrees
    10 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    ilovemytrees,
    Read my full post please.

    toronado,
    That is almost certainly the case. If I'm not mistaken, navel oranges originate from one tree centuries ago, but I'm no expert on citrus by any means.

    Also FTR, the bananas you buy in the grocery store are 1 or 2 triploid (has three sets of chromosomes so that they are seedless) clones. And it just so happens there are Fusarium strains that just love those banana clones. Thus a great deal of effort goes into controlling that disease. LOT AND LOTS AND LOTS of fungicides.

    Point being, this is the normal state of affairs in modern farming. A few cultivars dominate, until something comes along to wipe them out. Therefore, money spent on R&D (not just in crops) is in no way wasted, as some would have you believe.

    Arktrees

  • joeinmo 6b-7a
    10 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    Ilovemytrees,

    Homemaker and Florida's Natural are the same company - just a note, and yes the taste great. It all depends what part of the country you live in wether you get Florida's Natural or Homemaker.

  • Dzitmoidonc
    10 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    Arrktrees, just like all apples are Malus domestica, all bananas are the same Musa species. (Not including one edible species grown only in the South Pacific). Just like you can have Golden Delicious, Granny Smith and Rome apples, you have small pink bananas, big white ones and plantains all from basically the same genome.

    In my parent's day, the variety was called Gros Michele, "Big Mike". The last load was imported into the U.S. in 1962, but the dying of bananas had been on-going and had inspired the song "Yes, we have no bananas". Since then, almost all dessert bananas are Cavendish. The reason is a disease that wiped out almost all Gros Michele. The reason for the quintessentially British name Cavendish is that when looking for a banana tree that was immune to the fungal disease, one was found in the greenhouses of Lord Cavendish. This single clone is that basis for the whole dessert banana trade.

    Now, there is a new threat, another fungus. The industry has already moved from countries like Honduras to Ecuador, the new #1 source of bananas to the US. The fungus has infected trees in South China, and recently was found in Queensland, Australia. When it comes to the New World, you will read it in the mainstream media.

    While you and I may think of bananas as an accessory to breakfast, places like Uganda and that region use bananas like we do potatoes, wheat and rice. This variety, a plantain type, is also killed by the new fungus. When it ravages East Africa, you can imagine what will happen when it hits there, imagine taking everything with rice, wheat or potato off your menu.

    Anyways, there is a process going on to try to find a resistant banana. Every banana is an ancient seedless (natural?) hybrid. However, have you ever noticed small brown specks at the blossom end of a banana? Those are vestigial seeds. For every about 100 thousand bananas, one will have seeds that can be made to grow. For every 1000 ones that grow, one will make it to maturity. For this reason, the Country of Honduras has a project where bananas are mashed through a sieve to recover those 'seeds'. They are sent to the U. of Louvain in Belgium where they do the growing. As they get plants, they multiply them and give them to people in India, Africa, South America etc. It is hoped on of these will show resistance to the new fungus. I'll stop this long post, there is so much more to say.

    For more info, look for info on Tropical Race Four.

  • arktrees
    10 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    Dzit,
    I am aware of the importance o plaintains to many populations. While it has been some time since I was involved in Plant Pathology, and may not always know the specifics of a disease, that wasn't the point I was trying to make.

    The point I was trying to make was that whether the people here are aware of it or not, that food supplies, and a great many other things are far more vulnerable than nearly all realize.This is not confined to "Third World". Cutting funding on basic R&D is "penny wise and pound foolish". This goes for many "regulations" as well. Many of the regulations so many rail against, often have very good reasons to be in place. So that things like Emerald Ash Borer, Asian Longhorn Beetle among others are much less likely to occur. Regulations like all shipping material must be ground to prevent transportation of insects, or irradiated to kill pathogens etc.

    So when the OP posted the farmers pleading for science to save them, these same farmers likely complained about "useless and ridiculous" regulations on pesticides, importation of seedlings, and who knows how many other things. It strikes me as ironic that so many rail against science, are anti-science, immediately turn to science when things begin to go badly.

    Virtually everything around you, is the result of science past and present. The food you eat, Steel, cars, gasoline, medicine, your phone, computer, the materials in them etc. etc.

    Arktrees

  • davidrt28 (zone 7)
    10 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    Agree with what you say arktrees. A lot of people are against government services or regulations until suddenly - presto - those government services or regulations benefit them.

    I don't drink much OJ anymore because I think it makes me fat (better to eat an orange or apple, than drink the juices) but I will agree Florida's Natural has always been tastier than the other brand.

  • joeinmo 6b-7a
    10 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    I think there are sensible things we should spend money on like defeating pests from around the world because we import so much crap. However, we also spend way beyond our limits and can't sustain an infinite national debt.

    I think it's fairly wasteful to spend millions of dollars on a dancing robot that connects to an iPhone, $100,000 for taxpayer funded comedy group tour in India.
    $320,000 for robot squirrels,

    $76 million for round up of wild horses when none is needed, they are fine

    $7 million for sheep counting drones

    $3 million to boost bike clubs

    $400,000 to promote pickleball, whatever that is

    $1.1 million for puppets

    I can go on and on

  • joeinmo 6b-7a
    10 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    I think there are sensible things we should spend money on like defeating pests from around the world because we import so much crap. However, we also spend way beyond our limits and can't sustain an infinite national debt.

    I think it's fairly wasteful to spend millions of dollars on a dancing robot that connects to an iPhone, $100,000 for taxpayer funded comedy group tour in India.
    $320,000 for robot squirrels,

    $76 million for round up of wild horses when none is needed, they are fine

    $7 million for sheep counting drones

    $3 million to boost bike clubs

    $400,000 to promote pickleball, whatever that is

    $1.1 million for puppets

    I can go on and on

  • joeinmo 6b-7a
    10 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    I think there are sensible things we should spend money on like defeating pests from around the world because we import so much crap. However, we also spend way beyond our limits and can't sustain an infinite national debt.

    I think it's fairly wasteful to spend millions of dollars on a dancing robot that connects to an iPhone, $100,000 for taxpayer funded comedy group tour in India.
    $320,000 for robot squirrels,

    $76 million for round up of wild horses when none is needed, they are fine

    $7 million for sheep counting drones

    $3 million to boost bike clubs

    $400,000 to promote pickleball, whatever that is

    $1.1 million for puppets

    I can go on and on

  • arktrees
    10 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    joe,
    Not going to go into political stuff. Suffice it to say that there are always some less than ideal things in ANY large organization. That does not mean the organization as a whole is flawed. And special interests (large and small) take advantage of this.

    With that said, basic R&D is a TINY portion of the federal budget, and is exactly the thing you NEVER want to cut. Penny wise, pound foolish.

    Arktrees

    This post was edited by arktrees on Tue, May 14, 13 at 8:23

  • Dzitmoidonc
    10 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    Arktrees, I'm right there with you.
    Joeinmo, it is so easy to take a headline and make a decision. It is when you read the rest of the story that the grey emerges. The wild horses have no enemies, destroy native plants and if you were a rancher who was renting land and these non-natives ate your pasture, I guess you would just sell your ranch and move to town? What if I said the US spent 10 million building agricultural sheds in Honduras? Waste of money in your book. Then you read it was part of an international effort to set up the sieving of bananas to find the elusive seeds to send to Belgium. Se easy to find one line in a million line budget and condemn it. I do not deny there is a tremendous amount of waste, but most of it is in tax scams run by the rich and corporations. (Then again, who else can afford to buy themselves a poitician?)

    The way this country is going we should all retreat to our individual caves and to heck with the neighbor. What a concept, so antithetical to what the founders thought they were setting up. We once thought of ourselves as a part of something bigger, now the ideas screamed out by one side of the spectrum is that we are all alone, and each one can only take care of themselves. Everybody needs a gun, a year's supply of canned food and a tall fence. With that idea, everybody should plant trees that live one lifetime. To hades with the ones who come after us. Why plant a hickory if I might be dead when it starts to bear?

Sponsored
Art Masonry Inc.
Average rating: 5 out of 5 stars131 Reviews
Loudon County's Hardscape and Landscape Expert in Outdoor Living
Best of Houzz 2024: The results are in!