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August 31, 2008

More David Karp, this time on citrus greening

Here--before I let another one slip by:

Deadly Pathogen Harms Florida Citrus Groves (New York Times)

I really shouldn't enjoy something so horrible and damaging, but I still kind of get a kick out of the name huanglongbing. I'm so easily amused.

This disease has been hovering on the margins for a while now, having been reported in Miami three years ago, and it was just a matter of time until the panic struck the industry in a big way. And with good reason--unlike citrus canker, which is mostly a cosmetic problem, greening truly ruins fruit and trees. Florida's citrus industry is in bad enough shape already--many growers have sold out to developers in recent years (one grower told me that his kids could work his groves for thirty more years and not make as much money as he could make selling the land, although that was three years ago, before real estate tanked).

This, to me, is a perfect case for transgenics. There are essentially no resistant cultivars, no real obvious cultural solutions (aside from the "plant 'em close together and get what you can before they all die method" which strikes me as dubious and inefficient, and the "plant 'em with guava" method, which seems unlikely but would have the nice side benefit of putting more guava on the market if it did.) Breeding citrus (as I've mentioned before) is not a simple or easy thing to do, and even if it was, varieties capable of truly replacing those currently in place in Florida are almost certainly a couple generations away. Assuming you could convince people to replant at all.

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6 Comments:

At 9/05/2008 11:43:00 PM, Blogger boba said...

This could devastate California citrus as the psyllid has been found in Tijuana and San DiegoFarm Press Article. Although Florida growers are having difficulty making ends meet, the California citrus belt is not subject to development. Florida's growth cannot, will not continue either. Diversity is not just for agriculture. Look at the "rust belt" and its failure to diversify the economic producers. You can't rely on old people moving to the sunshine state - they don't bring children and are an unreliable tax base.

 
At 9/06/2008 01:32:00 AM, Blogger Evil Fruit Lord said...

Thanks, boba--I hadn't caught the fact that the psyllid was in San Diego. Definitely serious stuff. At least it was just one--there's a potential that was an isolated incident...

Development is not so hot in Florida right at the moment...just like everywhere else real estate is taking a beating. But that's a fairly recent state, and I don't think it'll last forever. I think in general it will keep growing for a while...there's a long trend of movement to Florida (between air conditioning and beating malaria, Florida's a lot more attractive as a place to live than it was a century ago).

The problem in Florida was as much the erosion of the industry because of higher property values, rather than low margins (though the margins aren't great).

As states go, though, Florida is really more diversified than many, both in population and in agriculture. The tax base sucks because they've got a completely broken ridiculous system (and all the old people).

 
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