Citrus farmer Mac Turner is fighting to keep his orange grove alive. Mac and his three siblings own 1,000 acres of citrus groves in Arcadia, Florida, which has been in the family for four generations. Mac’s family and other growers in the state are fighting citrus greening, the worst disease to hit the citrus industry ever.
First seen in Florida in 2004, citrus greening is a bacterial disease that prevents nutrients from being absorbed by a tree, producing smaller, bitter, unripened fruit to fall from the tree before maturity. University of Florida citrus research scientists estimate every grove in the state is infected.
That means every grower is suffering, paying more and more to feed trees the additional nutrients required to keep grove trees alive and the cost is too much for some to stay in business.
“It’s like cancer. One cancer cell doesn’t make me sick, but all together they do. It’s a tipping point,” said University of Florida IFAS Extension Agent Steve Futch. Futch spends every day with guys like Mac Turner, coming up with ways to deal with greening during production season, on the farm.
Agriculture is the second biggest industry in Florida, after, tourism, employing 75,000 people across the state. Greening is wiping out smaller farmers and will soon wipe out mid and larger citrus farmers, said Justin Sorrells, President of Sorrells Citrus Inc. in Arcadia.
Grower communities are desperate to help but don’t know how. “We’re in a pinnacle of panic,” said Barbara Carlton, retired president of the Peace River Citrus Valley Growers Association. “More and more growers are going to quit. We don’t have a handle on it. I believe there will be a way. I don’t know what it is.”
While industry leaders and researchers are focused on a cure for the future, the grower today is focused on how to care for the tree in the soil and the fruit that continues to fall on the ground.
Editor’s note: The headline, audio and first paragraph of this article were modified to reflect that Mac Turner is not abandoning his farm nor the citrus industry.