Nutrient supplements, root stock additives, genetic modification, heat therapies and a bacterial killer are just a few of the proposed solutions to what has been called the worst disease in history to hit Florida orange groves. Citrus greening, a bacterial disease that prevents nutrients from being absorbed by a tree, is killing off the Florida orange tree, and with it, the Florida orange juice industry which supplies 80 percent of the U.S. market.
Many are working to find a cure, like Dr. Reza Ehsani, University of Florida research scientist, who is using unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, to diagnose areas of citrus greening in groves across the United States. One of the newest solutions from the University of Florida suggests the protein that spreads citrus greening in a tree can be killed with a biochemical spray. All proposed solutions require years long field testing and approval before any cure is brought to the grower on the grove.
Florida citrus now has over $125 million from federal and state money to help pay for the research to find a cure, said Mike Sparks, President of Florida Citrus Mutual. The grower community he supports will not let the industry fail, said Sparks.
Florida’s 2013-2014 citrus harvesting season closed with many growers losing 30 percent in production, in addition to losses of 20 to 30 percent in years before from greening.
While the industry that defines Florida makes its way toward a recovery with millions in new research money and political support, delivering a cure to the grower takes time, at a time when growers continue to absorb production losses.