Florida’s citrus growers appear to be losing a battle against the tree-killing bacteria known as greening.
Prior to the 2004-05 hurricane season, Florida’s citrus industry was producing more than 240 million boxes of oranges a year, a record amount. Since then, the numbers have been falling due to the infestation of bacteria known as greening that kills fruit trees. There is no known cure for greening, and this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, production is expected to fall to 133 million boxes of oranges. Florida Citrus Mutual CEO Michael Sparks says the industry is approaching a critical point:
“Once you hit that 100 million box mark, you’d start losing your infrastructure. We could not support all the processing plants in Florida. But there’s no hidden number that, if we get below this, we would shut it down.”
This year’s estimate is near what the state was growing 16 years ago. The industry is already importing citrus from countries including Brazil, and the trend is increasing as domestic production shrinks. The consequence: higher prices for orange products at the grocery store. At stake in Florida are 76,000 thousand jobs, all part of a $9 billion slice of Florida’s agriculture industry.