News, Jazz, NPR
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Economy / Business

Florida's Orange Production Continues to Decline

citrus_greening.jpg
Wikimedia Commons

This year's Florida orange crop is approaching the fruit's lowest harvest in 24 years.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday released its citrus production forecast.

The 2013-2014 orange forecast is 110.0 million boxes, down 4 percent from last month, and 18 percent less than last season's final production figure.

Orange harvesting ends in June, and if the crop doesn't decline further, it will barely exceed the 110.2 million orange boxes harvested in 1989-90 following the worst freeze in Florida citrus history.

The culprit is citrus greening.

Named for its green, misshapen fruit, citrus greening disease has now killed millions of citrus plants in the southeastern United States and is threatening to spread across the entire country.

"We continue to feel the effects of HLB, or citrus greening disease, in groves across Florida," said Michael W. Sparks, CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual, the state's largest citrus marketing agency. "The silver lining is that the tight supply will put upward pressure on grower returns, however that is not sustainable in the long term. That's why finding a solution to this destructive disease in the laboratory is so important."

Citrus greening is spread by a disease-infected insect, the Asian citrus psyllid, and has put the future of America’s citrus at risk. Infected trees produce fruits that are green, misshapen and bitter, unsuitable for sale as fresh fruit or for juice. Most infected trees die within a few years.

The Asian citrus psyllid, which spreads citrus greening, is no bigger than the head of a pin. The infected insect spreads the disease as it feeds on the leaves and stems of citrus trees. Once the Asian citrus psyllid picks up the disease, it carries it for the rest of its life. Citrus greening is then spread by moving infected plants and plant materials such as bud wood and even leaves.

Citrus is big business in Florida. Citrus growers gave Florida 66 percent of the total U.S. market share. About 95 percent of the state's orange crop is used for juice.