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Asian bacteria threatens Florida oranges

AFP
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This disease makes oranges bitter and fall from the tree before they can ripen.photo: AP
This disease makes oranges bitter and fall from the tree before they can ripen.photo: AP

Citrus production in Florida, the world's second largest orange juice supplier after Brazil, is being threatened by a bacteria from Asia that has scientists racing for a remedy.

Known as citrus greening, the disease makes oranges bitter and fall from the tree before they can ripen.

A bacteria left behind by a tiny insect called an Asian citrus psyllid deprives nutrients from the trees.

The disease can remain latent for five years before it begins to show its effects, and by then it is often too late, said Greg Carlton, chief of the bureau of pest eradication and control at the Department of Agriculture in Florida.

In the 1990s, Florida citrus growers produced more than 200 million boxes, but this year that is expected to drop to 133 million, he said.

Meanwhile, the costs of producing the fruit have more than doubled, from a cost of $800 an acre to $1,900 per acre in recent years, due to the high costs of controlling the pest.

“If we don't find a cure, it will eliminate the citrus industry in Florida,” said Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida.

Growers have cut down vast numbers of infected trees and are using insecticides more frequently, as well as providing nutrients to bolster the trees' health.

Florida of course is not alone in facing heavy losses from citrus greening. Texas and California have also struggled with their oranges, grapefruit and lemons.

Greening has also hit Brazil — the top orange producer in the world -- along with other countries.

U. .and Brazilian experts are sharing resources in the hopes of finding a way to eradicate the bacteria.AFP

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