LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) - Mechanical harvesting of citrus fruit in Florida has declined by 74 percent during the past two seasons and experts point to the bacterial greening disease as the cause.
    
The Lakeland Ledger (http://bit.ly/QlLCQ1) reports that when removing fruit, the mechanical harvesting machines cause stress on the tree. Experts say greening magnifies the problem.
    
Greening, a fatal bacterial disease, first surfaced in Florida in 2005 and quickly spread to all the state's commercial citrus-producing counties. The disease causes trees to produce bitter, inedible oranges, grapefruit and tangerines.
    
Industry officials estimate more than 70 percent of Florida's nearly 70 million citrus trees are infected.
    
Orange groves use the harvesting machines exclusively because juice processors purchase 95 percent of Florida oranges and don't mind if the skin is bruised or blemished.
    
___
    
Information from: The Ledger (Lakeland, Fla.), http://www.theledger.com

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)