The Florida citrus industry has suffered some setbacks over the last few years, primarily due to the scourge of citrus greening or Huanglongbing (HLB). The good news is that researchers have made great strides in their fight against the disease, and many groves seem to be on the rebound. This year’s citrus harvest was pretty good for most growers.
A lot of growers were very happy with the crop this year. Numbers are up, after having been considerably down the year Hurricane Irma struck. Dr. Michael Rogers, Director of the Citrus Research and Education Center and statewide coordinator of citrus research and extension programs at UF, commends growers for their hard work overcoming HLB to get the state’s citrus harvests back on track.
The key for growers has been learning how to care for infected trees. While there’s no “cure” for greening, there are steps growers can take to mitigate damage to the fruit. Adapting how they apply nutritional programs, how they water the trees, and generally alleviating stresses on already-diseased trees has gone a long way towards improving yields.
“In general, I think folks are seeing their yields increase and rebound,” says Dr. Rogers. “Maybe not where we were a decade ago, but with the current high prices we’ve had, the growers who have managed their crops have made some money.”
Yields still down, prices high
Despite the positive steps being made, yields are still down due to HLB. The good news is that prices have been high for citrus. Growers are spending more to produce the crop, but they’re getting paid more, too. The hope is that prices will remain high so growers can afford to stay in business.
Citrus greening isn’t the only issue facing growers though. Citrus canker is still an issue in certain areas. A more recent introduction is a fungal disease called citrus black spot, which is affecting groves in southwest Florida. Citrus black spot can cause trees to drop fruit early. Certain areas are being quarantined, meaning fruit cannot be moved from these areas without being tarped.
A new pest that has been found in Florida is the lebbeck mealybug. In areas where it affects crops, such as Africa and the Mediterranean, it has been known to cause as much as fifty percent fruit loss. It’s a new pest here, and growers in the central part of the state have had some problems with it recently. Researchers are currently working on control techniques for this pest.