Florida without oranges? Citrus greening disease is growing threat to state's iconic industry

Disease is killing more of the crop each year

POLK COUNTY, Fla. - Citrus greening disease is posing a serious threat to one of the biggest industries in Florida. Each year, the the harvest gets smaller and smaller.

This year's yield dropped another five to ten percent due to the stubborn disease.

"We're not dead yet, but we're sick," said Vic Story, a veteran farmer in Lake Wales. "We're seeing more systematic trees this year than we have, and we're seeing more fruit drop than we've seen."

Recently, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture, Adam Putnam, spoke bluntly about the problem, saying "if we don't do something, in five years we are not going to recognize the citrus industry."

Story agrees.

"If we don't find some answers through the research that we're doing then it could drastically impact our industry in five years, yes I think that's correct," he said.

He said it's particularly true for the growers who are behind the eight-ball and aren't making the investment to spray their trees like they need to in order to kill the bus that spread the disease.

"You need to be all in or you're going to be all out," he said.

Collectively, citrus growers have spent roughly six million of their own money on research to find a cure, but more work needs to be done.

Putnam is pushing the governor to allocate another nine million in his budget.

It's really just a fraction of what's at stake. The industry is a nine billion dollar economic engine, and engine that is slowly running out of gas.

This Wednesday, hundreds of growers will meet in Lake Alfred for a conference to discuss the citrus greening research. The farmers will also discuss new experiments to fight the disease.

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