Citrus Greening Disease: The FAQs
Orange juice has always been one of America’s favorite beverages – consumed in nearly 70% of U.S. households[i] and on the menu of nearly two-thirds of limited-service restaurants[ii]. What was once only considered a breakfast beverage is now sought across all day parts as people seek better-for-you and portable options throughout the day.
Despite the variety of health and usage benefits, orange juice sales have continued to decline every year since 2007. Americans purchased just 563.2 million gallons during the 2012-2013 season, the lowest amount in 15 years[iii]. One major cause: increased prices related to a major issue haunting citrus growers – citrus greening disease – causing the corruption of citrus groves and impacting availability of citrus.
You’ve probably heard of Citrus Greening Disease, one of the most serious citrus plant diseases in the world. It is also known as Huanglongbing (HLB) or yellow dragon disease. Once a tree is infected, there is no cure. And, while the disease poses no threat to humans or animals, it has devastated millions of acres of citrus crops throughout the United States and abroad.
Citrus greening disease was first reported to have occurred in Asia during the late 1800s and the disease has already caused devastation in Asia, Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and Brazil. And, as the New York Times reported in May, it’s now impacting the U.S. In fact, Florida’s citrus industry is facing the biggest threat in history: a bacterial disease with no cure that has infected all 32 of the state’s growing citrus counties. Adding to this story, NPR reported in December, 2013, that growers are struggling to find a sustainable solution to fight the spread of the disease.
At Uncle Matt’s Organic, we’re committed to finding a sustainable solution to combat greening disease and are working hard to keep America’s favorite juice on the table. In the meantime, here’s what you need to know about the disease and its impact:
Q. What is Citrus Greening Disease?
A: Citrus Greening Disease is one of the most serious diseases in the world. The scientific name is Huanglongbing (HLB) or yellow dragon disease. It is a bacterial disease that is spread by an insect called the Psyllid. Once a tree is infected, the disease spreads to the Phloem (the tree’s main artery) causing severe issues with nutrient uptake. The disease causes trees to starve and citrus fruits to drop from limbs prematurely and rot. Once a tree is infected, there is no cure.
Q: Is there any threat to humans?
A: No. Although the name sounds serious, the disease poses no threat to humans or animals.
Q: If we aren’t able to find a cure to citrus greening, what will happen to the orange juice industry?
A: We don’t know for sure but ultimately it could put most citrus growers out of business because of the rapid decline of tree health and subsequent loss of production. It would severely affect the $11 billion combined citrus industry in Florida and California and the thousands of workers that depend on it for jobs.
Currently, the rise of citrus greening has significantly reduced supply and driven up production costs. Moreover, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that for the second year running –– the orange crop is expected to be almost 10 percent lower than the previous year.
Note: These estimates keep getting higher as the season continues. It’s not unreasonable for us to see a reduction of 20% from last year, making this one of the lowest Florida citrus crops in history.
Q: What are companies doing to combat the problem?
A: While we cannot speak for other companies and growers, at Uncle Matt’s Organic, we’re embarking on long-term, sustainable strategies to eradicate greening disease. Specifically:
- Utilizing parasitic wasps as a viable solution: Since 2008, Uncle Matt’s farm program has included utilizing parasitic wasps to combat and control the psyllid population. Psyllids are the vector for this disease. (Watch a video about using predatory wasps.)
- Cutting-Edge Research: Uncle Matt’s Organic –– in concert with leading research partners –– is conducting trials that centers around controlling the psyllid population. Uncle Matt’s is also conducting research on the effects of soil biology, varying root stocks and foliar nutrition to combat greening disease. The focus is on improving overall soil and tree health as preventative measures.
Q. How has Uncle Matt’s Organic personally been affected by citrus greening?
A. With the spread of Citrus Greening Disease, we’ve unfortunately seen about a 30% reduction in our recent 2013-2014 crop. This has forced us to alter our production procedures.
We are now having to supplement our U.S. orange juice with organic supply from Mexico. It’s the first time in our 15 year history that we’ve had to take action like this. Because we, along with the entire Florida citrus industry, have been affected by citrus greening disease, and because of the recent freezes to California citrus, we must go outside the U.S. for additional orange juice supply.
Rest assured our Mexican partners are USDA certified and must legally adhere to the same strict USDA standards that we abide by at Uncle Matt’s Organic. However, Uncle Matt’s Organic remains committed to local sourcing and still uses a vast majority of USA-sourced oranges for our delicious organic OJ. Our goal is still to source all USA oranges and our OJ will return to being fully USA sourced as soon as conditions allow.
Q. Since you’re sourcing a minority amount of Mexican juice as a result of shortages due to citrus greening, will this affect your juice’s taste?
No. The small amount of organic juice we are sourcing from Mexico is from Valencia oranges, which are a favorite because of their sweetness and great color. We are still committed to great-tasting, quality organic orange juices.
Q. Is your juice still made in the USA?
Yes, we bottle all of our juice in the USA, Florida to be exact, and we still grow and source the vast majority of all our citrus used in our products in Florida.
Q. Are you sourcing Mexican organic juice to save money?
No. In fact, it costs us more to import the organic juice from Mexico. We are committed to returning to 100% USA-grown fruit as soon as possible. Our organic lemonade, grapefruit and apple juices are still produced with all USA-grown fruit.
Q. What can I do to help?
A. Choose organic when possible. Consumers like you are crucial to helping the fight against greening disease. Uncle Matt’s Organic has been a pioneering force and agricultural activist in the development of the organic citrus industry for this country. We’re committed to supporting family farmers and embarking on long-term, sustainable strategies to eradicate greening disease. Your support of the organic industry as a whole helps us as well.
By supporting organic farmers, you are helping companies create a more sustainable future.
And, by buying organic, you can feel good about the fact that you are promoting a much cleaner method for producing food that is healthy for you, your family and the planet.
You can also donate to IOSC, the Institute of Organic and Sustainable Culture. This not-for-profit 501c3 is being set up to specifically fund organic research for citrus greening disease. It will be operational late spring 2014 and led by a group of well-respected researchers in Florida & the U.S. We will not go down without a fight. Stay tuned!
[i] Florida Department of Citrus. “Orange Juice Facts.” www.floridajuice.com
[ii] Wolf, Barney. Bringing the Juice. Health benefits help provide interest in juice drinks and smoothies. Quick Service Magazine. Feb 2013.
[iii] Wexler, Alexandra. The Slow Death of a Former Breakfast Table Star. Wall Street Journal. October 14, 2013.