Florida citrus growers are facing one of their worst years ever. The brief cold snap we had at the end of January further crippled the expected harvest, which was already seeing record dips. In fact, researchers are saying this year will yield the fewest oranges since World War II.
Numbers have been declining in little fits and spurts for years, as groves are cut down or converted for housing or growth, fewer trees are yielding fruit, and many growers have left the industry. But the biggest factor for the small crop this year is something called citrus greening.
But Isn’t Green Good?
Yes, the name definitely implies a much happier state of affairs. But Huanglongbing or yellow dragon disease causes chemical changes in the fruit that make them weirdly shaped, greener rather than orange or yellow, and alter the taste.
Citrus greening is caused by the Asian Citrus Psyllid. This invasive species, first spotted in Florida in 1998, feeds on citrus sap, while injecting the bacteria Diaphorina citri into the plant, causing the citrus greening. And the worst part is, once a tree is infected, it can never be cured – and just provides a risk to other trees.
Huanglongbing can limit fruit from fully ripening – hence the greening. It also affects the taste of the fruit. Infected oranges are distinctly bitter, with a sour, salty/umami, metallic, or musty taste, and lack the typical sweetness and fruity/orange flavor. Which is bad enough – but the infected trees are also impacting juice production.
Florida supplies 95% of the orange juice sold in America (sorry, California). A diminished crop means fewer oranges all around, and escalating prices. When prices go up, sales of OJ dip. And that creates a painful cycle for Florida farmers. They already have a smaller crop to sell, but consumers may not want to pay inflated prices, so sales go down.
What Can We Do?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture late last year announced new initiative funding to combat the Asian Citrus Psyllid. A little over $2-million was allocated to the University of Florida for three different programs to test and work to prevent the further spread of yellow dragon disease.
One particularly promising study involves grafting Australian lime hybrid rootstocks into our citrus production. The Australian lime is naturally resistant to the bacteria and greening disease – and may activate the plant’s immune system to also fight it, so they’re hopeful that will be effective.
The psyllid’s look like little grey and white mottled, waxy droppings, dripping off the bottom of citrus leaves, although often-times they appear to defy gravity, “hanging” up from the top of the leaf. If you happen to see them, isolate that tree from the rest of your orange trees, and never buy trees where you can see the psyllids. You should always check to see if sellers have their plants “in compliance” with the federal quarantine.
For all of the other bugs found in and around your home, you can contact Good News Pest Solutions. Our Go Green Perimeter Plus program is the best around – as safe as possible for your family, while effective and affordable. If you’d like to learn more, just give us a call!
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