For most of Florida’s 500-year history, the state has been synonymous with citrus. Introduced to Florida in 1565 by Spanish settlers, citrus found Florida to provide the ideal environment for production. Today, there are more than 70 million citrus trees in Florida on 473,000 acres. The citrus industry employs 76,000 Floridians and has a multibillion dollar impact on our economy. But, Florida’s signature crop is facing a very real existential threat. HLB (aka, citrus greening) is now present in every citrus-producing county in Florida and has infected more than half of Florida’s citrus groves.
The USDA has slashed its forecast for Florida oranges this season by 6%, a significant reduction during a season unaffected by freezes or hurricanes. The USDA’s projected droppage is the highest since the 1969 season. All one has to do to see the impact of this deadly disease is take a ride down U.S. 27 along the Ridge and look at the decline in the health of Florida’s groves.
Currently, there is no way to cure an infected tree. To preserve the long-term sustainability of Florida’s citrus industry, we must find better ways to halt the spread and mitigate the impact of greening. Through research, we need to gain a better understanding of the disease’s vector, (the Asian citrus psyllid), its biology, and its habits. Citrus health management areas, or CHMAs, and the production of disease-free citrus nursery stock have proven to be effective methods to suppress the vector and disease.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is investing in the future of citrus by expanding its budwood nursery, which provides clean stock to meet the needs of an industry that is replanting lost trees. In partnership with the industry, I’ve asked the Florida Legislature to dedicate $9 million for efforts to fight greening and save the industry. I also will work with our federal partners to continue to fund programs that support the citrus industry in the fight against greening like the Citrus Research and Development Foundation, Citrus Health Response Program, and land grant universities, among others.
As Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture and a citrus grower myself, I am committed to addressing the challenge of HLB head-on to ensure Florida’s signature crop thrives for generations to come. For more information on HLB, visit FreshFromFlorida.com/pi.