It hasn't been a good year for Florida's citrus industry. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that, for the second year running, the orange crop is expected to be almost 10 percent lower than the previous year.
The culprit is citrus greening, a disease that has devastated Florida's oranges and grapefruits, and has now begun to spread in Texas.
Citrus greening poses a similar crisis for growers, but one for which so far, there is currently no solution.
It is hard to imagine Florida without commercial citrus. The psyllid, discovered eight years ago in Florida citrus groves, has been problematic for researchers and farmers alike. The disease is caused by a bacterium that's spread by a tiny flying insect called a psyllid. Greening ruins the fruit, making it bitter and unmarketable, and eventually kills the tree.
Scientists and growers now say virtually 100 percent of Florida's groves are infected with citrus greening. The bacterium that causes greening is hard to treat because it flourishes deep inside the tree, in its vascular system. Boyd says it disrupts the flow of the nutrients trees need to survive.
At the same time growers began an intensive campaign of pesticide spraying aimed at controlling psyllids. It's a short-term strategy aimed at keeping diseased trees productive as long as possible. And for now, it seems to be working.
Using genetic engineering, Gabriel has also helped develop greening-resistant citrus trees. They've been submitted to federal regulators but final approval is still at least five years away.
Scientists believe GMO citrus trees may be the best solution to greening. But as realists, scientists knows many consumers — and citrus growers — are still very leery about GMOs.
You can have the best cure in the world, and if people are afraid of it for whatever reason, well, you just have to wait some more years and meanwhile search for another cure.
But for Florida oranges and grapefruit, the clock is ticking. Citrus acreage is now nearly half of what it was during the industry's heyday. Back in the 1950s and '60s, the Florida Citrus Tower was one of the Orlando area's most important tourist attractions. You could go up and see thousands and thousands acres of trees.
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