Bacteria, Bugs Threaten Florida Oranges

Do you enjoy a glass of orange juice each morning? Or do you enjoy eating oranges as a mid-afternoon snack? Prices of both could soon skyrocket.

A deadly disease is spreading through Florida’s groves; the crop is 10% lower than last year, and harvest is down to half of what it was ten years ago. The Chinese disease huánglóngbìng, also known as citrus greening or yellow dragon disease, can cause yellowing leaves, stunted root and twig growth, bitter and inedible fruit, and eventually leads to the death of trees altogether.

Almost all of the Florida’s groves are currently affected.

Oranges suffering from Orange Greening Credit:

The Asian citrus psyllid, an insect related to the aphid, is to blame for spreading this bacterial disease from tree to tree. They were first found in 1998 and spread to 31 other counties in two years. Citrus greening was first discovered in the U.S. in 2005. Though neither harms humans, together they are a combination deadly to trees.

In Japan, the Food & Fertilizer Technology Center has already studied the direct link between climate change (specifically warmer temperatures) and the spread of bacteria. Similarly, warmer climates in the U.S. might lead to a wider outbreak of the bacteria. And now, when the bacteria spreads, we have no way to stop it.


A harvest of Florida oranges, ripe for the picking.
Credit: USDA via flickr

So what’s at stake? This disease threatens a $9 billion industry, 75,000 jobs, millions of orange trees, and the risk that this disease will keep spreading as temperatures rise. And unless there is a cure, economics and disease will bankrupt farmers and hurt the industry. This fight is far from over.

The USDA has already quarantined trees in parts of 14 different states, in the hopes that limiting the movement of susceptible plants will help curb the spread of the disease. They are also spending millions on research that will hopefully help find a long-term cure. And the US will keep working until our oranges are safe.



This entry was posted in Climate Change, General.