"Why Is My OJ So Expensive?" Rotary Learns About the Threat to the Citrus Industry

on Wednesday, 11 February 2015. Posted in Recent Programs

Program Recap - Feb. 4, 2015

Touching on a topic relevant to nearly everyone, Rotarian and University of Florida Professor Emeritus Will Wardowski spoke at a recent Cashiers Rotary meeting about the leading threat to the worldwide citrus industry.

Citrus Greening Disease (scientific name: Huanglongbing, or HLB) is the result of bacteria spread by the Asian Citrus Psyllid, a small insect that feeds on the leaves and stems of citrus trees. Once the bacterium has been introduced into the tree, it clogs the tree’s vascular system, making it difficult or impossible for necessary water and nutrients to circulate throughout the tree. As a result, the tree yields fewer and inferior fruit and its life is significantly shortened before it eventually dies off completely.

While the Psyllid themselves can be killed, they are difficult to control. They fly short distances, but can be carried by the wind. The transportation of infected plants or plant material from one place to another also aids in the spread of the disease.

Professor Wardowski, who was a Statewide Extension Specialist for Fresh Citrus Fruits at the University of Florida’s Citrus Experiment Station for more than 30 years, served as witness on the front lines of what is now a global epidemic. There is no citrus tree or citrus-growing country that is immune to the disease. The Asian Citrus Psyllid feeds on all citrus trees, including orange, lemon, lime, mandarin, pomello, kumquat, grapefruit and tangerine trees. It also feeds on orange jasmine, curry leaves and other citrus relatives.

As of this time, there is no cure for citrus greening, though researchers are expending money, effort and creativity in the fight against it. A number of methods to combat the disease are currently under investigation, including using pesticides, engineering resistant hybrids, using antibiotics and heat treatment, introducing a parasitic wasp into the ecosystem, growing trees in a caged environment, and experimenting with root stocks. Needless to say, the practical application of any method is costly and, due to the lifecycle of citrus, it will be some time before the effectiveness of any method will be borne out.

The general public is directly effected by the problem, as the quality and quantity of available fresh fruit dwindles and citrus by-products such as juice, jellies and jams increase in price.

“Unless we discover a viable cure, we are looking at the possible extinction of the citrus industry as we know it, “ said Professor Wardowski before taking questions from the audience.

Cashiers Rotary meets every Wednesday morning at the Cashiers UMC on Highway 107. Visitors are welcome. For more information on attending a meeting or joining Rotary, please visit www.cashiersrotary.org.