Citrus Greening Reduces Orange Crop Estimate … Again

By Allison Floyd

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

The battle against citrus greening is getting even more serious.

The state of Florida and U.S. Department of Agriculture have invested millions of dollars in fighting the disease, which has infected as many as three-fourths of the orange trees in the Sunshine State.

When the USDA announced the January Citrus forecast on Friday (a report that came out at the same time as the monthly World Agriculture Supply and Demand report of grains and other commodities), the news wasn’t good.

“The forecast numbers for orange production keep going down and seem to be signaling a critical stage in the fight against citrus greening,” said John VanSickle, an agricultural economist for the University of Florida.

The citrus report forecast Florida orange production down another 5 percent to 115 million boxes of Valencia oranges and 54 million boxes of non-Valencia oranges. Total 2013-2014 U.S. orange production was lowered from 179.3 million boxes to 170.3 million boxes.

The 2013-14 crop already was predicted to be the smallest in more than two decades, mostly due to the ravages of citrus greening. The bacterial disease is spread by two species of psyllid insects and is believed to have originated in China in the early 1900s. Infected trees produce green, misshapen and bitter-tasting fruit.

Trees have been affected in Asia, Africa and Brazil, and some experts estimate that as many as 75 percent of Florida trees are infected – less than a decade after the pest first was spotted here.

Late last year, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack joined UF’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources, Jack Payne, to announce a new coordinated effort to fight the disease. USDA has committed $250 million to fight the battle, while researchers at UF are working on ways to manage the disease, prevent it from spreading and find ways to help infected trees fight the effects.

But the new crop projections show the industry isn’t turning around yet and may be reaching a do-or-die point for America’s breakfast beverage, according to the economist.

“The industry has invested heavily in establishing orange juice as a staple in the diet of Americans and our declining crop creates opportunities for other juice drinks,” VanSickle said. “It could take much longer to earn back this market after the scientists identify a control for citrus greening. The numbers suggest we are in a desperate state NOW.”