By: Michael E. Rogers, Professor and Center Director, UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center
Citrus is intrinsically tied to the Floridian experience. We grow more of it than anywhere in the world. We are the center of orange juice production for the United States. Citrus groves have long defined our landscapes.
Yet, since the early 2000s, an invasive insect, the Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP), has transmitted a deadly citrus disease to virtually every grove in Florida. The result has been devastating. Orange production in Florida dropped from 245,000 boxes in 2003/2004 to an all-time low of 45,000 in 2017.
But Florida growers, the state legislature, and scientists responded rapidly and aggressively.
Funding to find solutions was provided and University of Florida research agendas were redirected to learn more about the insect, the pathogen, how it effects the citrus tree and, most importantly, find growing practices that support Florida’s citrus growers.
At the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, researchers have discovered ways to control the insect, have learned what are the best nutrition and irrigation methods to support trees, have developed varieties that are more tolerant to the disease, and created innovative techniques to enable citrus groves to survive and thrive in this new environment. Investment in citrus research is one of the fundamental reasons why Florida’s citrus production exists today despite the dire predictions that the industry would not survive the citrus greening situation.
Most of these results are the product of state and federally supported research projects. Some research projects were made possible by State of Florida Legislative supported citrus initiative funds. That investment produced new knowledge about better nutrition methods that keep trees productive longer and researched natural sweetness enhancers that may lead to citrus beverages with lower sugar content. UF/IFAS researchers also used these investments to research citrus plant health from the ground up, working on soil that surrounds citrus tree roots. They looked at whether shade can help trees fight citrus greening and found out about natural biocontrols for the Asian citrus psyllid. These funds supported research that looked to breeding citrus greening tolerant and citrus greening resistant trees – the ultimate solution that will support the multi- billion industry in Florida.
Citrus scientific research may sound expensive, but it usually represents less than .1 percent of the total economic impact that the citrus industry has for the Florida economy. And growers have faith in the process. A recent survey conducted by a Florida agricultural media outlet found that over 70 percent of Florida growers think that continued scientific pursuit of a breakthrough in defeating citrus greening is a viable opportunity.
State funding investment in scientific research directly provides Florida growers with reasonable, pragmatic solutions to successfully grow citrus in this new age of citrus greening.
Financial support for research is working. Continued support is needed so we may build on this knowledge portfolio and secure the future of Florida citrus. Together we are making significant progress.
For a copy of a report on the impact of the state funding citrus initiative at UF/IFAS, please contact Ruth Borger at firstname.lastname@example.org