Scientists race to save Florida orange juice, citrus industry

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Polk County, Fla. – A tiny insect that carries a powerful disease threatens the future of your cold morning glass of Florida orange juice.

Researchers are responsible. Citrus greening disease Nearly 80% decline in Florida citrus production since 2005.

Data show a 60 percent drop between 2022 and 2023 alone.

The disease is a bacterium carried by small insects. Infected trees produce small, dry fruits, and the tree eventually dies.

This is the reason for the high failure in production University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciencesor UF/IFAS, is working hard to stop the spread of the disease.

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“Oranges should be big—Florida’s beautiful and juicy,” said UF professor Charlie Messina. “They are all green.”

Messina is leading a new project called the Crop Transformation Center.

UF President Ben Sasse pledged $2 million to fight Citrus Greening Disease in an effort to boost the state’s citrus industry.

“I think the industry could disappear in two years,” Messina said.

Bacteria that cause citrus greening disease It grows at temperatures between 60 and 90 degreesDescribes an average day in Central Florida.

But the warmer climate is creating longer stretches of those heatwaves, and that’s not helping.

Courtesy: Climate Central (Copyright 2023 by WKMG ClickOrlando – All Rights Reserved.)

UF professor Fred Gimmer calls what’s happening to Florida’s citrus industry a “disaster.”

“We’re actually one of the very few places where there’s organized citrus farming in the middle of this disaster,” he said.

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Gimmer helped gather and prepare the veterans at the University’s Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred, where they sampled some of the citrus products, hoping to plant some.

He said he is looking for orange trees that are resistant to citrus greening disease, and has already found a couple.

The trick, he said, is to make sure they still taste good.

Growers from across Florida are collecting samples of oranges resistant to citrus greening disease at the University of Florida Citrus Research and Education Center in Polk County. (Copyright 2023 by WKMG ClickOrlando – All Rights Reserved.)

“This tree is very resistant to green,” he told News 6, holding up a piece of orange. There are farmers to whom we would like to say, “Let me make some of this.”

Messina said he is investigating the possibility of modifying the genetic makeup of certain orange trees to create something that enhances immunity at the cellular level.

Grapefruit sampling for tasters at the University of Florida Citrus Research and Education Center. (Copyright 2023 by WKMG ClickOrlando – All Rights Reserved.)

He knew he didn’t have much time to do this.

“The results I’m seeing from the cell scientists are really promising,” he said. “Science is our best chance.”

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