What scientists have called the worst disease to ever hit orange groves continues to plague Florida citrus growers.
On Tuesday, the Florida Department of Citrus pushed for $5.75 million from the state’s general fund to curb effects of citrus greening on the state economy.
Citrus greening, a bacterial disease that prevents citrus trees from retaining nutrients, hit the orange juice industry hard this year. There has been a decrease of 7.6 million boxes of oranges compared to last season.
The state will generate an estimated 96.4 million boxes of oranges this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, much lower than the 102 million boxes put out last years. The forecast is the lowest of any non-hurricane season in 50 years.
The problem began in 2004 when the Asian citrus psyllid, a small insect that feeds from the sap of citrus trees, was brought into the United States through the port of Miami. The insect transmits a bacteria that has had a rippling effect on Florida’s industry, which supplies 80 percent of the U.S. market.
The bacterial disease prevents trees from absorbing nutrients, which causes their small, green fruit to fall before they are ripe and are ready to eat. Last year, University of Florida researchers said they believed every grove in the state may have been infected.
“The updated citrus forecast, which has decreased by 5.6 million boxes since the April announcement, illustrates just how severely citrus greening is devastating Florida’s citrus industry,” said Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam in a prepared statement.
The Florida citrus industry has previously received over $125 million of federal and state money to help pay for research on a solution to the problem. Proposed solutions included nutrient supplements, root stock additives, genetic modification, heat therapies and a bacterial killer.
The more time passes, the more orange trees are affected. The more orange trees are affected, the more citrus farmers are put out of work.
Agriculture employs about 75,000 people across Florida, the second biggest industry following tourism.
Putnam’s agency recently requested $18 million for research on disease relief, to grow clean citrus stock and replant trees.
“There is much hope, but not enough data, for several chemical and genetic modification approaches,” said Professor Dean Gabriel, a University of Florida plant bacteriology specialist. “We scientists, as well as growers, would like more certainty. I am personally much more optimistic than last year.”