Federal agency looks to Univ. of Florida in battle against citrus greening

by | Oct 30, 2023

  • The University of Florida has received a $5 million grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to support research against citrus greening, a disease severely impacting Florida’s citrus industry.
  • Citrus greening causes reduced yields, leading many growers to replant entire orchards.
  • Florida Citrus Mutual CEO Matt Joyner indicated this month that recent treatments, backed by grower-subsidized and state-allocated research, are showing positive outcomes with healthier trees and larger fruits.

The University of Florida (UF) has secured a total of $5 million from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to advance research against citrus greening.

The allocation, divided into five grants, will support various research strategies to develop citrus varieties resistant or tolerant to greening, which has marred Florida’s growers with significant difficulties in crop production over the past decade. When a tree becomes infected, it produces fruits that remain green, become misshapen, and taste bitter.

Citrus greening has severely affected Florida’s multibillion-dollar citrus industry, leading to decreased yields and forcing many producers to uproot and replant entire orchards, thereby raising production costs.

“These five funded projects illustrate the breadth and depth of our world-class citrus research program,” said Robert Gilbert, UF interim senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources. “We need every tool in our toolbox to combat [citrus greening] in an integrated manner, and this USDA-NIFA funding will be extremely helpful to UF/IFAS and our stakeholders.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) projects an uptick in production from Florida growers for the 2023-24 growing season, following one of the worst fruit yields in a century last year, partially attributed to greening.

“The foundation of this industry is its ability to adapt, overcome, and evolve in our treatments and protections against prolonged challenges stemming from extreme weather and citrus greening,” said Shannon Shepp, Executive Director of the Florida Department of Citrus (FDoC) following the forecast.

In its forecast, the USDA estimates the production of 20.5 million boxes of Florida Oranges, 1.9 million boxes of Florida Grapefruit, and 500,000 boxes of Florida Tangerines.

The projection is a nearly 25 percent expected increase in productivity compared to the year prior, when growers produced 15.85 million boxes of oranges, down from 41.2 million boxes during the 2021-2022 season. Looking towards the turn of the century, typical annual production figures topped 200 million boxes of oranges and about 50 million boxes of grapefruit.

Moreover, Florida Citrus Mutual CEO Matt Joyner struck a note of optimism this month during an appearance before the state Senate Agriculture Committee. Citing grower-subsidized and state-allocated research, which has reportedly shown promising early results, Joyner states that recent treatments appear to be having a positive impact, with improved tree health and larger fruit sizes.

“Those therapies have been deployed now. Growers have tools and we’re seeing the results in the growth,” he said. “The fruit is sizing up, early quality tests … show the fruit is good, we’re very optimistic about our ability to maintain tree health.”


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