An insect — no bigger than the head of a pin — is wreaking havoc on the Florida orange industry. The Asian citrus psyllid is responsible for spreading citrus greening across the state, all of which is under quarantine for the disease. Citrus greening, also known as Huanglongbing, causes oranges to turn green, grow misshapen, and take on a sour taste. Infected citrus trees normally die within a few years.
Already, the forecasts for orange harvests in Florida are down. According to the December data by the United States Department of Agriculture, Florida orange production is expected to be 3 percent lower than November’s numbers. Hale Groves, a Florida-based citrus grower, says that the citrus industry in Florida accounts for more than 75,000 jobs, and is worth $10 billion annually. In the U.S., citruses, including oranges, grown in Florida supply 70 percent of the market, and is second only to Brazil in terms of growing oranges. Florida’s dominance in the orange juice market is even more impressive, with the state producing 90 percent of the U.S.’s supply.
Recognizing the severity of impact a devastated orange market can produce, the USDA announced a multi-agency response. ”USDA listened to the citrus industry’s request for more urgency and greater coordination on the response to HLB and is implementing an emergency response structure,” Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said in a statement.