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Citrus Greening Continues to Bite into Florida's Signature Crop

May 12, 2015 - 6:00pm

Florida suffered another blow in its battle against citrus greening.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's grim estimate for the state's $10.7 billion citrus industry, released Tuesday, claims the 2014-2015 Florida orange crop, responsible for 64,000 jobs, will yield just 96.4 million boxes of fruit. That's down from last season's 104 million boxes.

The state's signature crop is fighting for its life against a bacterial disease with no cure.

The estimate released Tuesday represents a decline of 60 percent since the peak of citrus production at 244 million boxes in 1997-98.

In a year with no hurricanes, long freezes or other severe weather events, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam says it shows what a death grip citrus greening has on Florida's orange groves.

The updated citrus forecast, which has decreased by 5.6 million boxes since the April announcement, illustrates just how severely citrus greening is devastating Floridas citrus industry," Putnam said in a prepared statement.

"The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has requested $18 million this year to support research, to grow clean citrus stock and to remove and replant diseased trees. We will fight to save" Floridas citrus industry, he vowed.

For the first time in 2013 the disease was found in all 32 counties where citrus is grown.

Citrus greening, introduced to Florida in 1998 probably through the Port of Miami, is spread by a vector called the Asian citrus psyllid -- an insect no larger than the head of a pin. Infected trees produce misshapen, unmarketable and bitter fruit. Over time, it inhibits the trees ability to produce fruit. After becoming infected, trees usually die in three to five years.

The only way to control the disease is to remove the tree.

Researchers estimate that more than half of Floridas citrus groves are infected with citrus greening.

Greening has crippled citrus production around the world, including in Asia and Africa, researchers at the University of Florida told The New York Times. 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. Florida is second in the world market only to Brazil in orange juice production.

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