Gulf Citrus Growers Association closing due to Citrus Greening Disease

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Florida and oranges are synonymous, or at least they were, as the Gulf Citrus Growers Association will cease operations locally due to poor crops.

“Due to the changing climate of the citrus business, all the problems and devastation and loss of the orange groves, we were having to shut our doors,” said president of the association, Wayne Simmons.

Gulf Citrus Growers Association told its members it ceased all operations this week. It served Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties, and advocated for citrus farmers since 1985.

And it came at a time when citrus production was at an all-time low.

The issue stems from crops not yielding as many oranges due to citrus greening disease, a bacterial infection of the crops spread by an insect called the Asian citrus psyllid, that will guarantee the tree’s death within a few years.

“Citrus greening, that’s been the main culprit and our demise, for almost 20 years, and it’s just not been really productive,” said Simmons.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there is no cure for citrus greening disease, and while it poses no threat to people, it has devastated millions of acres of crops throughout the world.

“Most growers if they can produce 200 boxes per acre, they’re very happy,” Simmons said. “Most growers are probably closer to 100. Back in the heyday, when we didn’t have citrus greening, we were anywhere from 400 to 600 boxes of oranges per acre, so it’s been a real decrease, and our quality is suffering.”

According to the USDA, the signs of a crop greening may not be entirely obvious as trees can remain asymptomatic which can allow for the bacteria to spread without the acknowledgement of the farmer.

If a tree is infected, “over time, an infected tree will start producing fewer fruit that are partially green, smaller, shaped irregularly, and taste bitter. Leaves may show asymmetrical, blotchy mottling,” according to the USDA.

And Simmons said they are a long way from having a cure for it. Instead — farmers are learning to deal with it.

“Citrus is a big business in local economy here in Labelle, so just nationwide, or statewide devastation that’s affecting all of Florida’s economy,” said Simmons.

The association has represented farmers in Southwest Florida for nearly 40 years but announced it will cease operations as they can no longer maintain financial viability.

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