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Florida orange crop projected to be smallest in nearly 25 years

7:39 PM, Dec 11, 2013   |    comments
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ZOLFO SPRINGS, Fla. -- Marty McKenna is a third generation citrus grower. As he drives through his expansive grove, he thinks about this year's harvest.

"Primarily, the first thing that pops into my head is the future," he said.

McKenna sees first-hand how his groves are producing less oranges. Citrus greening disease is a bacteria that can kill a tree and cause the fruit to die or prematurely fall from the branch.

"This is because of the greening disease.  This fruit probably died a month ago, this one two weeks ago," McKenna said as he held two pieces of brown fruit still connected to an orange tree branch

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's forecast of 121 million boxes of oranges would be the lowest harvest since 1990--when the crop was impacted by hurricanes.

"Next season, we'll have 12 more months of greening to impact our crops. So who know how low it'll be next season," McKenna said.

Andrew Meadows of Florida Citrus Mutual added, "It is alarming. 121 million boxes is a small crop."

Meadows says the disease, first discovered near Miami in 2005,  is quickly taking a financial toll.

"Citrus greening has caused 4.5 billion dollars in economic harm; as well as cost the industry 8,000 jobs, so there's a tangible affect happening," he explained.

McKenna knows the entire web of citrus in Florida is at risk.

"This industry has a huge infrastructure built into it with processing plants and harvesting and trucks. It takes fruit to keep those machines running," McKenna said.

For growers, the real concern is what might happen in the coming years if a cure for citrus greening can't found.

"We need a scientific breakthrough, then we can alleviate trouble.  If we keep going the way we're going, then we're holding on.

And eventually, without any scientific breakthrough, we'll all have a different industry than we're used to," said McKenna.

WFTS

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