Florida citrus crops attacked by bacterium, future in peril

These days, everywhere you look, a new industry or service is marketed as "greening" itself — making it more environmentally conscious by reducing its carbon footprint or assuaging its corporate guilt through any number of steps. Usually that's considered a good thing.

But an article in this week's New York Times explains why "greening" in the Florida citrus industry is the last thing we want: this form is caused by a bacterium, Candidatus liberibacter asiaticus, transmitted by the Asian citrus psyllid (Diaphorina citri), and results in green, lopsided, bitter fruits. (Image at right from the University of Florida, Citrus Research and Education Center.)

It's a relatively new problem to Florida, appearing only three-and-a-half years ago, but the disease has spread so quickly that some estimate that "virtually all the state’s citrus trees will be infected in 7 to 12 years." Spraying has not stopped the spread of disease, resistant varieties have not been found, and scientists are having difficulty recreating the pathogen in labs in order to research other potential controls, including resistant hybrids.

Various genetic modifications of orange and grapefruit species are being tried to stave off the bacterium.  (Lemon and lime trees are apparently tolerant of the disease thus far and have not seen a decline.) Though initial tests have shown success, Dr. Jude Grosser of the University of Florida is aware that not everyone would be excited about GMO citrus, though he suggested that "it'll probably come down to the point where people have to decide whether they want orange juice or not."

No word on whether or not this bacterium has affected organic crops, or backyard trees surrounded by diverse plants. Planting guava trees nearby seems to protect some trees from greening.

Though the article largely deals with the scientific aspects of dealing with the disease, the economic results seem obvious: expect higher-price citrus fruits and juices as the Florida citrus industry sees a broader spread of the disease, and expect that citrus grown elsewhere will become more prevalent in the supermarket.

Orange you glad to know that? We're not.

3 Responsesto “Florida citrus crops attacked by bacterium, future in peril”

  1. Hazel says:

    Not good news at all for those of us who love orange juice.  Keep us posted.

  2. Paul says:

    This sounds exactly like the chicken little scenarios about bananas that are used to push genetic engineering as a savior technology. Never mentioned in these press releases transcribed into articles is that an alternative is to simply to produce many more varieties. The tasteless industrial crops like the Cavendish banana won't be missed by me.
    Time to contact snopes.com about this latest hoax?

  3. Teresa Siles says:

    Unfortunately, there is new information to report. First, Huanglongbing, also known as HLB or citrus greening disease, has been discovered in Mexico, putting the citrus industry on high alert. Also, earlier this week, the Asian citrus psyllid was found in Orange County, then Los Angeles County. Get the most recent news release here: http://bit.ly/6nffw

    Teresa, on behalf of the California Citrus Research Board.