Florida’s citrus crops are continuing to suffer in response to the growing HLB (citrus greening) epidemic. HLB – a bacterial plant disease – results in both premature fruit drop and small fruit size issues – issues that, as of yet, have minimal solutions.
With HLB on the rise, citrus fruit production is plummeting, potentially heading for an all-time low since the freeze year of 1989-1990.
The USDA December estimate of the 2013-2014 Florida orange crop is at 121 million boxes, down 3% or 4 million boxes from its initial estimate of 125 million in November. Production of orange varieties, the grapefruit crop, specialty fruit, and frozen concentrate orange juice yield are also on a downhill spiral.
This excessive drop is, of course, worrisome for Florida citrus growers. With no promising plan of attack in response to the spreading incidences of HLB, it’s feared that this citrus crop reduction trend will continue.
Fortunately, the USDA has come to the rescue.
Members of the citrus industry, in a state of panic, shared their growing fears with the agency. In response, the USDA developed a plan for greater action and collaboration.
To help ease industry fears, the USDA has implemented a new, integrated emergency response structure to combat HLB with the high hopes of better coordinating HLB efforts and resources. This plan of attack should maximize collaboration, allow for more sharing of information, and create operational strategies to boost effectiveness when it comes to policy decisions, priorities, critical resources, and research.
To backup its commitment to the industry, the USDA allocated $1 million to be used in support of research initiatives that will (if all goes well) offer valuable and short-term solutions to citrus growers as they struggle to manage and combat HLB.
Hopefully, this collaborative collective will fill research gaps, resolve the unnecessary duplication of research, and speed up the progress of discovering useful tools for citrus growers to better handle and eradicate this disease.