Citrus greening killing thousands of acres of groves on the Treasure Coast

The Asian citrus psyllid spreads the infection

FORT PIERCE, Fla. - A new University of Florida study is outlining the negative economic impact of a wide-spread citrus disease. Citrus greening is killing trees across the Treasure Coast, and scientists say it's actually worse than citrus canker.

The disease makes fruit small and misshapen. It turns leaves splotchy and yellow.

Growers and local industry experts say citrus greening is killing thousands of acres of citrus groves on the Treasure Coast. There is no cure once the disease takes root.

"Martin County has lost a tremendous number of acres, as has St. Lucie County," said  Tim Gaver, a citrus expert with the St. Lucie County IFAS extension.

An insect called the Asian citrus psyllid spreads the bacterial disease that may have begun in China a century ago. It was first detected in Florida groves in 2005.

"There are a lot of psyllids out there, and it takes a lot of additional sprays to control those insects," Gaver said.

Left unchecked, citrus greening can kill a citrus tree within five to seven years. The only hope is to kill the insects before they can spread the disease. There are also nutritional programs to help keep the tree alive. Gaver said spraying to control the psyllid population costs hundreds of dollars per acre. That's taking a toll on growers' pocketbooks, but they have no other choice.

The study says more than 6,500 jobs have already disappeared in the state's citrus industry, because of lost citrus production.

"You're losing jobs, and that affects everyone from the production people, people working in the packing houses, the harvesting people; It affects all of us," Gaver said.

Experts say citrus greening has also cost Florida more than $3.5 billion in lost revenue, and they worry the pain and financial loss may have no end in sight.

"If growers don't make a profit, they're not going to stay in the business," said Gaver.

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