MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. -- The citrus industry is among the largest in Florida, generating more than $9 billion a year and employing nearly 76,000 Floridians. But for the latest several years, the industry's very existence has been threatened by a disease called citrus greening.
Now a breakthrough: researchers at the University of Florida say they may have found a solution. They say following one failed attempt after another, they are finally making headway in the fight against citrus greening.
"The greening has virtually eliminated our fruit crop." Bill Mixon of Mixon Fruit Farms is among the growers who have been tackling citrus greening; a disease he says has not just devastated his farm but many across the state. "Here on the 22 acres, in the last two years, I've uprooted and burned over 600 trees. And a lot of groves have been actually abandoned and even more are being abandoned because the small grower can’t afford to keep spending the amount of money he has to spend to even make the trees look half way decent, so many growers are just giving it up.”
According to the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences, the citrus industry has lost $4.5 billion in revenues since 2006, the result of greening.
But a recent announcement from researchers at UF has given many like Mixon hope. “We identified one compound that destroys one of the main transmission factors in this bacteria,” says researcher Claudio Gonzalez.
He is part of the three person team conducting greening research. And the compound he's speaking about is called benzbromarone. Prior to its success in threatening citrus greening, it was used to treat gout in humans.
But Gonzales says since they've been using it to tackle greening, it has stopped the spread of the disease in 80% of citrus trees they've applied it to. “We know that the interaction with this protein can stop the spread of important genes the bacteria require to survive inside the plant."
Gonzalez says they're still in the early stages of the research and it could be several years before they are done.
In the meantime, people like Mixon say they will continue to have faith that a solution will come soon. "I’m happy of course that the government has realized that if we don’t do something, we will not have a citrus industry. It got to a point that year was almost a total failure in growing fruit."