Citrus-greening, a disease spread by infected insects, is threatening to destroy Florida's citrus industry – which has served as one of the state's economic powerhouses for decades, according to the Packer.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food Agriculture (NIFA) has given four grants totaling more than $13 million to three universities and the USDA Agriculture Research Center in Athens, GA to find ways to develop disease-resistant trees.
None of the universities awarded are based in Florida. University recipients include: Clemson University; Regents of the University of California, Riverside; and Iowa State University.
Not a moment too soon, the USDA is dedicating another $13.6 million – on top of some $400 million already spent since 2009 – to try to attack the root cause of citrus-greening, an insect-spread disease that is affecting all of Florida's citrus-growing areas and threatening to wipe out a $9 billion industry in that state.
The worst problem to ever affect citrus production globally, citrus greening is also is known as huanglongbing, or yellow dragon disease.
The USDA's hungrypests.com website notes that the disease is spread by the Asian citrus psyllid, a small bug that issn’t easily visible. Once a tree is infected, it usually dies within a few years – and there is no known cure for the disease. The disease is also found in California, Georgia, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, South Carolina and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The psyllids have been detected in Alabama, American Samoa, Arizona, Guam, Hawaii, Mississippi, the Northern Mariana Islands and Texas.
Growing numbers of disease-riddled citrus trees will undoubtedly have a negative effect on the already struggling juice category. Since most fruit juices have already fallen out of favor with consumers due to their high sugar contents, now may be the time for beverage manufacturers to reformulate their products to include more vegetables. This still may not be enough for the category to recover, but until a solution to citrus greening is found, manufacturers will have to get creative.
Anyone involved in using or selling citrus products or citrus-based ones should continue to monitor this situation. Even if the new round of research finds a solution — and that assumes the disease doesn't remain active in the ground below dead or sick trees — the problem is likely to continue for years to come.