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Florida Citrus Industry Is Getting Squeezed

Image via Jessica Lewis on Unsplash

It's believed the first citrus was brought to Florida in the mid-1500s by one of the early Spanish explorers, likely Ponce de Leon. The citrus industry in Florida has grown into a $9 billion per year industry that employs 76,000 people. 

Florida is the second-largest orange juice producer in the world after Brazil and the the world's largest producer of grapefruit. More than 90% of America's orange juice is typically made from Florida-grown oranges. The Sunshine State produces more than 70% of of the United States' supply of citrus.

To say the citrus industry is vital to Florida's economy would be an understatement. That's why what's happening right now in Florida is causing panic. 

The state has seen 90% of its groves ravaged by huang long bing, which literally means yellow dragon disease. More commonly known as citrus greening disease, it prevents raw green fruit from ripening. If the fruit does ripen, it falls to the ground before it can be picked, which makes the fruit unsellable under Florida law. 

Florida’s Department of Citrus even called the disease "one of the most destructive foreign plant diseases imaginable" while saying it "has decimated the state’s iconic industry."

The disease, which first hit Florida in 2005, has already taken a heavy toll on the state. In 2004, there were more than 7,000 farmers growing citrus, according to a University of Florida study. Since then, nearly 5,000 have called it quits. About two-thirds of the state's juice processing plants have shut down. The report estimated 34,000 jobs were lost in the 10 years after the disease hit. 

So what's the solution? Researchers are trying everything from developing new trees that can withstand the disease to creating genetically modified oranges. "We’re in a race right now to save the Florida citrus industry," said Michael Rogers, the director of the University of Florida’s Citrus Research and Education Center. 

The bug that carries the disease, the citrus psyllid, reproduces so quickly that they become resistant to insecticides within a year. Spraying them has driven farmers costs up more than 50% since they were discovered. "Without advanced tools to control citrus greening, the citrus industry in Florida could be out of business within 10 to 15 years," the former head of Bayer’s research division said in 2017.

So while fake meat has been getting most of the attention lately, it may not be long before fake citrus fruits become commonplace.

Leftover Crumbs

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