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Florida Citrus Under Siege from Greening Disease

 New York, June 13 - Florida's multibillion dollar citrus industry is beleaguered by citrus greening or yellow dragon disease and is mounting an effort to formulate ways to eradicate the disease, a senior official said.

"It is clear to me that our industry's battle against huanglongbing (HLB) or citrus greening may be the most daunting challenge that has ever faced our industry," Michael Sparks, chief executive of top citrus growers group Florida Citrus Mutual, said in a speech on Thursday at its annual meeting in Florida.

A copy of the speech was made available Friday. Florida Citrus Mutual said its growers form part of a $9.3 billion industry which employs 76,000 workers.

He said all 32 Florida counties with commercial citrus production are infected with the disease, a bacteria with no known cure which kills the citrus plant in about two years.

"The levels of infection are greatest in southern counties, with some groves in that area reaching (a) 60 percent infection rate. Projections are for the continued spread of HLB throughout the state," he said.

"Right now, all we can do is to try and control the bug that spreads HLB and remove infected trees that have the disease. That's it," Sparks concluded.

The disease, first noted by the Chinese in their citrus groves in the 1800s, has devastated citrus farms around the world. The disease was first detected in the United States in 1998 and has spread rapidly.

Separately, Sparks said other major issues for Florida citrus growers would be establishment of a controversial guest workers program as part of immigration reform. The growers also are concerned with softening demand for orange juice by the American consumer.

"Orange juice is not a given on the American breakfast table anymore. There are a lot of alternatives," said Sparks. "Literally thousands of new beverages are introduced each year from sports drinks to energy drinks to fruit punches to bottled water."

Source: Reuters


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