Huanglongbing | Incurable bacteria threatens citrus groves

Citrus grove

Citrus greening is an incurable bacteria threatening citrus groves in Florida. Image: Flickr / organicguru / CC-BY-ND

In Florida, an incurable bacteria threatens citrus groves. The bacteria, known as Huanglongbing, citrus greening, or HIB, is carried by insects. The disease is killing between 1 and 3 percent of the Florida citrus trees each year.

Juice oranges most at risk from incurable bacteria

There are two major citrus growing areas in the United States – California and Florida. California grows mostly eating oranges, and Florida grows mostly juice oranges. The incurable bacteria threatens citrus groves in Florida right now, causing sour, deformed, dry fruit. The citrus greening disease eventually kills the tree with infected fruit. While a one to three percent die-off rate for citrus groves is normal, citrus greening is causing a three to five percent die-off rate. This is in addition to the bad juice orange harvests from freezing temperatures.

Trying to find a cure for incurable bacteria that threatens citrus groves

A group of researchers from over 12 countries had a conference at the first of the year to discuss citrus greening. One group of researchers has started studying the citrus genome of two trees particularly susceptible to the incurable bacteria. In nature, a disease such as this may die off or stay relatively contained. However, many citrus groves (and agricultural fields) are now grown as monoculture, meaning that the insects that carry this disease can easily infect an entire grove in just days.

The danger of the “citrus delay”

The incurable bacteria that threatens citrus groves is particularly dangerous because it threatens young trees. It takes between three and five years for a newly-planted young citrus tree to start developing fruit, and up to seven years to reach full maturity. When Huanglongbing attacks a tree, it kills off trees that are young, meaning a farmer could lose out on a decade or more of investment. It can also kill off new genetic lines, which reduces the chances of developing resistant breeds of trees.



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