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Originally published September 2 2008

Citrus Crops in U.S Under Siege From Unknown Bacterium

by Barbara L. Minton

(NaturalNews) Citrus greening is blazing through the Florida citrus groves like wildfire. Scientists don't know how long it will take to find a treatment or cure for this contagious bacterial disease. One scenario projects that within nine to ten years, all the citrus trees currently in the ground will be dead.

Citrus greening, caused by a bacterium yet unnamed, is one of the most serious citrus diseases in the world, destroying the economic value of the fruit while compromising the tree. The disease has significantly reduced citrus output in Asia, Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and Brazil. Now trees grown in the U.S. are in jeopardy.

Growers describe the disease as being much worse than citrus canker which has already killed over 4,000,000 trees. Currently, there are 30 counties in Florida quarantined for citrus greening. Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Guam, as well as 32 counties in Texas are quarantined for the Asian citrus psyllid, one of the two species of insects spreading the bacterium.

"This is as bad as it gets," said the manager of a 4,000 acre Florida orange grove in a recent press release. There is no current cure for infected trees. In parts of the world where greening is epidemic, citrus trees decline and die within a few years.

The disease was first detected in the U.S. in 2005, when it appeared on pummelo leaves and fruit. Since then, citrus greening has spread through most of central Florida.

In April, 2008 the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced findings from a summit held in December, 2007 between federal, state and industry leaders to determine how to defend America's citrus crop against the disease. The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service purposed the development of a national plan that will result in a coordinated and holistic approach for targeting the pests. The agency will also work with key federal and state citrus health experts and industry leaders to create working groups that will gather information and help address the critical issues identified at the summit. However, these working groups will have no direct influence over Federal and State appropriations or regulatory activities.

In March, 2007 the Murraya paniculata, commonly known as orange jasmine or mock orange, was placed on the hot list of plants that serve as hosts for citrus greening by the Florida Department of Agriculture. This is an ornamental plant native to South and Southeast Asia, used throughout Florida as a shrub.

In Florida the Citrus Production Research Advisory Council is concerned that the citrus juice industry will not be able to maintain enough productive acres to support the capital invested in the processing and packing plants. Experts have suggested that the minimum tree acreage necessary to keep the industry viable is 500,000. The productive acreage in the 2006-07 season was 554,000.

According to a Florida plant virology expert, researchers have not found any plants that are resistant to the infectious bacterium. He sees the insertion of greening-resistant genes into citrus as the most promising solution.

Look for the loss of the Florida citrus crop to further exacerbate the shrinkage of food crops during a time of increasing worldwide demand and crisis, signaling another leg up in the spiraling of food prices. Solutions for this devastating problem may result in the addition of another category of GMO food, as well as the falling of more huge amounts of farmland into the ownership or control of the federal government.

About the author

Barbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.

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