If you’ve ever enjoyed a ripe orange, or fresh-squeezed O.J. with your breakfast, odds are that orange came from Florida. The orange is so synonymous with Florida that it’s even featured on their license plate. In 2002, 80% of America’s oranges came from Florida, but due to a number of factors, most notably tree disease, that percentage has gone down. Without oranges, Florida’s economy would have to quickly adapt or face ruin.
A Florida without oranges is difficult to imagine. The first orange trees in Florida were likely planted sometime between 1513-1564 by Spanish explorers. These first trees thrived on the subtropical climate and fertile soil, and people began to plant more and more. Still, it took a long time before trade markets opened up and there were enough trees to produce large amounts of fruit. After the Civil War, Florida sent out one million boxes of oranges and grapefruit, and by 1893, that number had risen to five million. In 2001, Florida’s citrus crops brought in nearly 5 billion dollars.
In the last few years, the orange industry has been suffering. This year, it is possible that Florida might produce 63% fewer boxes than it did in 2005. That was the same year that citrus greening appeared. This disease is carried by a small insect that attacks a citrus tree’s vascular system. It begins in the roots and then chokes up the tree’s ability to move nutrients to the fruits. The fruit is never able to mature, so they stay green, sour, and solid. There is no known cure, so whole orange, lemon, and grapefruit groves have been cut down, and people are losing their jobs. In an effort to adapt, farmers are often selling the cleared land, so companies can build houses and condos.
Some solutions to this blight include introducing genetically-modified insects which cannot carry the disease into the equation, so they mate and breed out the disease. Scientists have also been experimenting with counter-viruses that wipe out the original greening, and new species of oranges that are immune. Whatever they come up with, it’s clear that Florida’s oranges must be saved, or the Floridan economy will look very different in the near future.