State citrus production decreasing due to greening

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SARASOTA - Florida oranges are known across the world. But a disease carried by flies is plaguing the very existence of the industry. It’s called citrus greening, and it’s gotten so bad that many say if a solution isn't found soon, Florida citrus may lose its viability.

"It does affect the tree, it does weaken the tree, and it will misshape the fruit," says Dean Mixon of Mixon Fruit Farms about some of the effects of citrus greening, a disease that has been plaguing one of Florida’s biggest industries.

"The estimate seems to be going down every year, and the quantity of fruit being produced is getting less and less, so it definitely could affect us."

According to recent figures from the Citrus Research and Development Foundation, last year alone, citrus greening cut production by more than 10%, with financial impact reaching into the millions.

"It’s over $140 million for just this year, and of course trees that are inspected over a number of years cumulative lose their health to the point that they don’t produce fruit. So that’s even a conservative estimate of the cost to growers this year," says Harold Browning with the Citrus Research and Development Foundation.

In addition, he says the disease has more than doubled the cost of growing citrus.

But state lawmakers are trying to put a stop to greening. The 2014 state budget would allot $7.5 million of sales tax revenue to research, in hopes of finding a solution to the disease.

"We will be working with the primary agencies that are conducting research, like University of Florida IFAS, and the USDA laboratories here in Florida to help accelerate getting these research results out here in the industry," says Browning.

In the meantime growers like Mixon say hearing about the funding is like music to his ears. "The industry is a big part of the economy of the state, so I’m glad to see the legislature has seemed fit to help us out a little bit."