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2021 Virtual Farm Tour Video Day 4: Citrus production, juicing, and more!

2021 Virtual Farm Tour Video: Day 4

2021 Virtual Farm Tour Day 4: White’s Red Hill Groves

What is Florida’s history with citrus?

You may not know this, but citrus is not native to Florida. Someone brought it here from Asia. Citrus was first planted in Florida in the mid 1500’s probably by one of the early Spanish explorers. Today, Florida continues to be one of the top producers of citrus in the entire world! In the U.S., we are number one in the production of citrus. Oranges and grapefruit are the two citrus products with the highest value. In Florida, the majority of citrus is used for making juice.

Historically, citrus has been an incredibly important industry for the state. The citrus industry has generated a lot of income and jobs. In recent years, citrus growers are facing a lot of challenges making it harder to grow citrus. In 2000, citrus was being produced on 750,000 acres across the state (Court et al. 2018). Seventeen years later in 2017, this number fell to around 411,000 acres. One of the main challenges impacting growers is citrus greening.

What is citrus greening?

Citrus greening, also known as Huanglongbing, is a disease that effects citrus trees. The bacterial pathogen Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus causes citrus greening. It was first detected in Florida in 2005 and has since spread throughout the state. The bacteria causes problems with the phloem. In plants, the phloem is how the plants transport nutrients. Kind of like how our blood vessels work in our bodies. The citrus greening bacteria damages the phloem of the tree. This makes it hard for nutrients to move around the plant. Thus, this limits the trees ability to grow and develop. As a result, the leaves become chlorotic and the fruit is lopsided and bitter. Over time, the condition becomes worse until the plant stops producing fruit or dies.

So how did citrus greening end up all over Florida? Well, an insect, the Asian citrus psyllid (Diaphorina citri), can vector the pathogen. This insect can fly and move around. If the insect feeds on an infected tree, it takes some of the bacteria with it. When it moves to another healthy tree and feeds, it spread the bacteria to the new tree. Like the bacteria, the Asian citrus psyllid is an invasive species from Asia. It was first found in the U.S. in 1998. Although it feeds on the tree, the damage was nothing too terrible. However, when the citrus greening bacteria was introduced to Florida, the vector was here, ready to move the pathogen around the state.

To date, there is no cure for citrus greening. Once infected, a tree will continue to decline until it dies or the grower removes it. Scientists are hard at work looking for a cure for citrus greening. In the meantime, growers have to manage citrus greening the best that they can. Many citrus groves have been abandoned altogether. Yet, some farmers are finding ways to keep growing citrus despite this terrible disease.

Where does our food go after it is harvested?

A lot of different places! It also depends on the commodity. Some products have more processing than others. It also depends on the end destination of the product. Some farmers might just wash and pack their products. Others might do some more processing before selling the end product. This might include cooking, canning, shelling, juicing, and more.

After harvesting citrus, quite a few things could happen to the fruit. If it is being sold as fresh fruit, the citrus will get washed and packed. Then, it is sent to the market. Sometimes, the market is right there at the farm. Other times, the citrus may need to travel to where the market is. If it is close, the fruit might travel by car. If it is further away, it might travel by boat or airplane too! Some farmers might be growing their citrus specifically to make juice. In Florida, we grown about 95% of our citrus for juicing. In this case, producers wash and move the citrus to a facility where juicing occurs. That juice is then bottled and sent to the market similarly to the fresh fruit.

Fresh fruit or juice are not the only options! The fruit might get candied or canned. A producer might also process it into jelly/jam or freeze it. Citrus and its by products might even be used for other stuff like cleaning products or scented oils. The possibilities are endless!

2021 Virtual Farm Tour and Video Scavenger Hunt

Hidden in each of our 2021 Virtual Farm Tour videos is a keyword. If you collect at least 4 out of the 6 keywords, you could have a chance to win some cool stuff! After watching the videos and collecting the keywords, fill out this quick survey. We have 3 baskets full of local Florida goodies, 10 compost bins and 10 at-home hydroponics kits to give away to randomly selected survey participants. For more information and links to all six 2021 Virtual Farm Tour videos, visit this 2021 Virtual Farm Tour blog.

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