MANATEE COUNTY - Citrus is one of Florida's largest industries, but now its very existence is being threatened.
“A lot of them have lost half to three quarters of their crop.” Citrus grower Dean Mixon is talking about the effects of a citrus disease called greening. “What it does is it defoliates the tree quite a bit. You lose you leaves, and the fruit doesn't get as big a size and the fruit doesn't have the symmetry that it would normally have.”
But the effects of greening can get worse. According to researchers, greening causes tree limbs to die, which prevents the fruit from growing or even makes the fruit fall off the tree while it's still green.
Scientists studying the disease say the financial effects are devastating. “Annual citrus production over that five year period was decreased by an average of $330 million annually, which represents 19% of average annual grower revenue in Florida,” says Alan Hodges, extension scientist with University of Florida.
In addition to the loss in citrus revenue, Hodges says greening is also hurting the state's economy, resulting in the loss of about $900 million and more than 8,000. “Unless we could find a permanent solution, the industry is likely to continue to decline -- reduced production volume, and reduced acreage cultivated, reduced employment for a lot of people.”
The massive effects of greening have also gotten the attention of lawmakers. Senator Bill Nelson’s bill was slated to go up for a vote on Monday, but was delayed due to the fiscal cliff.