There’s no denying that Florida has seen an enormous negative impact due to citrus greening, or HLB, in its citrus industry. As annual harvests have continued to fall year after year, many have wondered how long the citrus industry can stay afloat. With harvests dwindling and maintenance costs soaring, many citrus growers have thrown in the towel. Researchers with the USDA believe the rest may not be too far behind if a change doesn’t come soon.
According to Bob Shatters, a research molecular biologist with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Fort Pierce, FL, Florida’s citrus industry can continue on as it is for about three more years. After that time—barring a change in the current state of the industry—the entire industry will no longer be economically viable.
The data shown by mathematical models and forecasts of HLB’s effects indicate that Florida’s citrus industry can stay afloat up to 2019. Without a cure, treatment or superior management option, the industry will not be economically viable into 2019.
The results of recent studies showed that 80 percent to 90 percent of Florida’s citrus trees are already infected with the bacteria that causes citrus greening. The disease decreases a tree’s fruit production by 40 percent and increases the costs of grove maintenance by twofold. Then there is the cost of replacing dead citrus trees. It all amounts to expenses that are greater than the end result; no grower or producer can continue with an operation that is losing money year after year.
Currently, Florida’s citrus industry stakeholders are doing everything possible to hold on until a cure or treatment is found. Treating citrus trees with heat is an example of a treatment that growers are employing to hold off citrus greening and its effects for as long as possible. Trees are essentially tented and then heated to kill the bacteria. Such treatments have been shown to extend the life and productivity level of a citrus tree infected with citrus greening by a significant amount of time.
With a deadline essentially in place, the citrus industry now waits for a treatment or cure that makes citrus greening a thing of the past.