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Citrus industry gears up for the challenges it faces

Citrus fruit ranks first internationally in trade value among all fruits. Sweet oranges are the major fruit grown in the citrus category and represent approximately 70 percent of the citrus output.

According to the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Brazil is the leading citrus producer in the world, followed by China, the U.S., Mexico, India, Spain, Iran, Italy, Nigeria and Turkey.

The two main players in juice oranges are Florida and São Paulo, Brazil. Production of orange juice between the two makes up roughly 85 percent of the world market. Brazil exports 99 percent of its production, while 90 percent of Florida’s production is consumed in the U.S.citrus-greeningCitrus greening on the leaves of an orange tree.

All 140 citrus-producing countries share one commonality — the existence or threat of two serious diseases that affect citrus.

Production is often cut short in many areas by outbreaks of bacteria known as Xanthomonas axonopodis, or citrus canker, which cause unsightly lesions on all parts of the plant. This ultimately affects tree vitality and causes early drop of fruit. While not harmful to human consumption, the fruit becomes too unsightly to be sold, and entire orchards are often destroyed to protect the outbreak from spreading.

Citrus canker affects all varieties of citrus trees, and recent outbreaks in Australia, Brazil and the U.S. have slowed citrus production in parts of these countries. Citrus leafminer moths are a major concern where citrus canker exists. The openings created by citrus leafminer make the tree highly susceptible to the X. axonopodis bacteria, which lead to citrus canker.

In 2010, the National Academies Press published Strategic Planning for the Florida Citrus Industry: Addressing Citrus Greening.

But the book covered much more than the state of citrus greening in Florida. Research results gathered and compiled in the book also address the economic importance of citrus worldwide, in the U.S. and in Florida.

Huanglongbing, or HLB, commonly referred to as citrus greening, is recognized as the deadliest citrus disease the citrus industry has ever faced.

An overview of Florida’s citrus growing acreage from 2000-11 provides a tangible impression of the hardships that citrus greening causes. In 2000, there were 665,529 commercial acres of citrus being produced in the state. By 2011, that number decreased to 473,086 acres. Since then, acreage has declined every year.

Citrus greening is blamed for a loss of over 8,000 jobs in the state.

Citrus growers that have remained in business in Florida, as well as those in other citrus-producing states in the country, have changed their citriculture practices aggressively in an effort to combat citrus greening. These changes include protocols that help avoid the spread of the disease.

A 2013 paper published in Pest Management Science reported on new care-taking strategies. It stated that productivity of citrus groves can be retained at pre-Huanglongbing levels through three keystone citriculture practices — vector control, foliar nutrition and certified young trees.

This three-pronged strategy now makes up the new best management practices for commercial citrus growers fight against the citrus greening disease.

Current research is aimed at the goal of giving the greatest yields for the lowest costs. Indeed, these lower costs are necessitated by the increased per acre cost of caretaking brought upon by Huanglongbing infection. Huanglongbing forces the commercial citrus caretaker to spray blocks of citrus many more times a year than normal, considerably increasing costs.

Per pound citrus prices must continue to increase for citrus to remain profitable due to these disease pressures.