How Biotech Could Save the Orange Juice Industry
The American state of Florida has been home to commercially-farmed citrus since the mid-1800s, and today, it is a US$9 billion industry, employing nearly 76,000 Floridians. Named the Sunshine State because of the good growing weather, Florida farmers grow more than 74 million citrus trees on more than half a million acres (200,000 ha), which provides for 90 percent of America’s orange juice consumption. Any damage to the crop would have serious consequences on Americans’ vitamin C intake!
Farmer Richard Dicks manages several of his family’s orange groves near Dundee, Florida, and has looked to plant science to protect his groves from many different pests over the years.
“These days we are fighting citrus greening, which is a pretty devastating disease,” says Richard.
Once a tree is infected with the insect-spreading disease, there is no cure, meaning the orange tree dies and the fruit produced is unusable. The disease has devastated millions of acres of citrus crops throughout the United States and abroad.
“Some farmers are losing 40 to 70 percent of their production – enough to put them out of business,” says plant scientist Jude Grosser.
New biotech citrus trees are being developed by a team at the University of Florida, led by Jude, to resist the devastating disease.
“We are working to combine emerging biotechnologies with conventional technologies to develop improved rootstocks for the Florida citrus industry and beyond. With disease-resistant biotech varieties, yields could even exceed traditional highs. Without our efforts, the number of people able to enjoy delicious and nutritious citrus products will decline substantially. It is really rewarding to positively impact the availability and quality of citrus fruits and products marketed worldwide.”