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Greening disease continues to cause low yields in Florida

Greening disease is affecting the production of the citrus and is the cost of the industry’s decline. “This year we’ve had the smallest crop since the 1988-1989 season,” explains David Brocksmith of Seald Sweet International, “but the Florida orange crop was estimated at 108 million field boxes which is an increase from last year.”

For the last three years the citrus industry has been in a steady decline as forecasted ten years ago when citrus greening disease was discovered. Each of Florida’s main citrus exports is still experiencing a decrease in yield. Last year it was projected that 120 million field boxes of oranges would be collected throughout Florida, with the actual harvest totaling 104 million.

Grapefruit experienced a slightly less decline from 15.5 million to 15 million. There is a high demand for grapefruit at the beginning of Florida’s citrus season as there is a void of sales between California’s citrus season finishing and Florida’s beginning. Tangerines are also experiencing a decrease from 250,000 to 208,000. “The trees do great when they keep their fruit, but the disease causes them to drop their fruit to the ground which makes them unmarketable.”

While overall yields are down, prices for citrus are increasing. The average cost for a 40lb box of oranges was $14 last year compared to $16 this year. The average cost to grow and maintain an acre of oranges has also increased from $800-$1000 dollars to roughly $2300-$2500 per acre. Acreage continues to decrease due to greening disease. “We’re concerned with how it’s going to affect the Florida citrus industry. Right now people are paying more money for fewer oranges and we’re looking for a way to correct this.”

The yield of Florida’s citrus depends on finding a way to grow healthy trees and circumvent the loss from the greening disease. “Some growers spray every two weeks, when ten years ago, they would have sprayed four to six times during the season.”

Growers are also focusing on less conventional, more natural methods like nutritional programs. “Growers are using whatever they can to mitigate this disease,” explains Brocksmith, “Pesticides, herbicides, but what’s really helping them is all the time they spend tending to the trees.”

In order to control the disease and prevent it from attacking new citrus trees, growers are using thermotherapy. This method involves tenting a tree and raising the enclosed temperature to a certain degree which then kills the disease. After the tree has been properly disinfected, it is planted into a grove. “Some growers use solar energy to heat the trees and generators to create exhaust in order to help the plants. The disease is very resistant to both immediate and long-term plans” states Brocksmith, “Growers are investing millions of dollars to research a cure and to keep their trees alive during the interim.”

Florida citrus is also harmed by the lack of investors or new growers. “No one wants to gamble on a tree that may not be alive in six or seven years,” explains Brocksmith. “If nothing is done, the industry will continue to contract.”

For more information:
David Brocksmith
Seald Sweet
Phone: (772) 569-2244
Fax: (772) 562-9038