While Florida's top crop might be tourists slathered in sunscreen, agriculture ranks right up there, too. According to the state, Florida produces about 67% of oranges in the U.S. and accounts for about 40% of the world's OJ supply.
The industry has a $9 Billion impact and supports 76,000 jobs.
Orange you grateful we've got good fruit? Unfortunately for growers, greening has become the scourge of the citrus industry. The disease is endemic to the state, affecting all 32 commercial citrus growing counties. And it's killing our juicy fruits.
We got the skinny on this unpleasant illness from the folks at Florida Citrus Mutual, plus some tips on how you can support our state's fruitful efforts.
So what is greening, exactly? Also known as Huanglongbing (HLB) or yellow dragon disease, diseased trees produce small, misshapen, bitter fruit. Not conducive to making tasty OJ.
The plague has devastated millions of acres of Florida growth, and there's no known cure. Yet.
"It's the biggest challenge we're facing right now," says Andrew Meadows, Director of Communications for Florida Citrus Mutual.
"Growers have spent about $80 Million in the last nine years in research. We've got
100 projects across the globe looking at the bacteria, looking at the bug that spreads the bacteria, looking to see if there are any therapies, antimicrobials we can give trees that have the disease."
Additionally, a farm bill passed earlier this year that allocates $125 Million to greening science over the next five years.
"Growers are trying new production techniques, nutritional programs for trees and doing all they can out in grove to mitigate the effects of the disease," Meadows adds. He doesn't see it as a hopeless cause, however, despite some people's predictions.
"I don't think it's quite as doom and gloom as everybody seems to think. Growers feel that way as well," he explains. Prices, for instance, are pretty high for growers right now. Plus, the research is promising, he adds.
"There are a lot of confident growers out there that are sure they can produce fruit in this environment."
So what can loyal Floridians do? Buy local, of course. Florida doesn't have that many industries -- we need to support the ones we've got. Maybe opt for OJ over Starbucks a few times a month.
"Buy Florida orange juice, eat Florida oranges, buy Florida grapefruit juice, eat Florida grapefruit, and make sure you know where it's coming from," says Meadows. "Produce has to be labeled in Florida with its country of origin. Juice is also labeled country of origin, so if consumers want to help growers then buy their products."
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