Citrus greening insect puts 100 year old farm at risk

Published: June 27, 2022 4:49 PM EDT
Updated: June 27, 2022 6:25 PM EDT

An insect is putting trees at Greens Citrus Groves at risk.

Frank Green, owner of Greens Citrus Groves has walked this orange grove more times than he could possibly count.

Now 79 years old, he was born on this Alva farm and so was his dad. His grandfather started growing and selling oranges more than 100 years ago. You could say juice runs through the green family’s veins.

“It is our life. Not part, it is our life,” Green asked.

And that life is now in jeopardy.

“Three to five years from now this grove that we’re standing in today probably won’t be here,” Green said.

A little insect called an Asian Citrus Psyllid is the reason. This bug causes citrus greening.

“Greening is a devastating disease,” Green said.

It is caused by a bacteria that simply put slows or stops the tree from getting the water and nutrients it needs from its root system.

The end result is thinner trees that produce fewer and smaller fruit.

Every tree that has citrus greening has the potential to spread the disease to other trees.

Dr. Fritz Roka, Director of FGCU’s Center for Agribusiness Advisory Board said, “citrus greening it’s been with us since 2005, which is when it was first positively identified as a disease.”

Since the advent of citrus greening our state’s annual citrus yield has plunged 64%.

Florida produces more than 70% of the country’s oranges. In 2021 California jumped Florida to become the number producer of oranges.

“No one could forecast at 17 years later, we would still be no closer to having a cure for greening,” Roka said.

Citrus greening is not unique to Florida, Roka said the bacteria is everywhere around the world.

That’s why research has gone international.

But there is still no cure.

“It’s a sad thing when your grandparents and your great grandparents started all this. And we haven’t been able to carry it on. I mean, not that there’s anything that we have control over, it’s just the fact that it’s not going to be around any longer… it’s going to be… it’s going to be gone,” Green said.

Green doesn’t know what the futures hold for Greens Citrus Groves, but he fears citrus greening could mean the end of his family’s business as he knows it.

FGCU’s Center for Agri-Business has run the numbers.

In 2004 there were more than 155,000 acres of citrus in Southwest Florida, that number is 107,000 today.

Green said if his family gives up oranges they don’t want to give up farming.

They may use their land to raise cattle.