When Citrus Goes Feral
I've posted a few times in the past about the looming threat of citrus greening in the U.S. One of the biggest problems underlying this issue is the staggering quantity of abandoned citrus groves in Florida:
Abandoned Groves a Citrus Greening Threat (The Ledger, Lakeland, FL)
The groves serve as breeding grounds for the citrus psyllid, which transmits the bacterial disease. According to the article, a recent USDA survey calculated that there are 129,869 acres of abandoned citrus groves in Florida, roughly a fifth of the citrus acreage in Florida. That's 202 square miles!
Disease threats like this are hardly possible to eradicate even with careful management, and abandoned groves are everywhere in Florida. As I've mentioned before, the citrus industry in Florida hasn't been in great shape for a while, and greening isn't helping. And although the psyllid and greening are the current focus, feral groves are a ready reservoir for all kinds of pests and diseases.
But although a clear threat, abandoned groves in Florida also represent an opportunity. For one thing, they represent thousands of acres of quality agricultural land, sitting unused. This could be in the form of a new crop, or in rehabilitating the old. By virtue of being abandoned, these groves are basically "instant organic". Companies such as Uncle Matt's Organic have been rehabilitating some of these groves and producing organic citrus and citrus products. Because of the significant premium enjoyed by organics, these groves don't need to attain full commercial yields to be profitable, and a little regular maintenance can make a big difference in keeping diseases and pests from running wild.
(I met Uncle Matt last winter in Florida--he's a nice guy with a quality product. He's got a couple of short videos up about organic citrus growing, and I'm hoping for more in the future--the next one is supposed to be on disease control.)
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