Another Update to the Sad Story of Citrus

Richard Lyons’ Nursery has tried to keep readers abreast of developments with respect to the health of citrus in Florida. We’re sorry to report that the latest information from the state’s Department of Agriculture, as well as industry sources, is not encouraging.

On November 12, the Florida Senate Agriculture Committee met in Sebring to discuss the crisis created by citrus greening, a bacterial disease for which there is still no known treatment. Industry representatives, in concert with state government officials, are asking for $20 million in Florida’s 2016-17 budget to be allocated to fighting the disease. $8.5 of that request is intended to go to the agency leading the research effort toward a remedy. According to Mike Sparks, Executive Vice-President and CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual, the trade group representing growers, more than $176 million, from a variety of sources, has been spent on greening research in the past ten years. John Barben, a grower from upstate, claimed that $71 million of that sum has been contributed by growers, proof that they intend to stick around, provided that research continues.

During the three-hour meeting, Adam Putnam, Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner, declared, “We are at a tipping point; some would say we’ve blown past the tipping point” in the battle against citrus greening. He added that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest prediction — that 74 million boxes of oranges would be harvested this season — is half of what production was only four years ago. Lower yield, coupled with an increase in the cost of managing groves, is forcing many small growers out of the industry.

Putnam reported that 130,108 acres of citrus statewide have been abandoned, leaving behind breeding grounds for both the bacteria and the insect which spreads the disease. He said that he intends to seek several million dollars in the next regular legislative session to be applied toward removal of some of the abandoned groves. Larry Black, the president of Florida Citrus Mutual, estimated that the cost of removing all abandoned citrus trees would exceed $60 million.

With this dire news, Richard Lyons’ Nursery continues to recommend that consumers avoid buying citrus trees for their property, and instead look toward installing some of the many species of fruit trees in our region that are not prone to fatal diseases. The nursery will not offer any citrus trees for sale until affordable preventive treatments are developed.

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