Incurable bacteria citrus greening destroying Florida's citrus industry

(CBS News) For millions of Americans, part of the morning ritual is a glass of orange juice, but that sweet start to the day is now threatened. There's a disease spreading through Florida's multi-billion-dollar citrus crop.

The malady is called citrus greening, and it is making it harder for area businesses to stock Florida's best known fruit.

"My concern is we won't have Florida oranges in a few years," said Bob Roth. Roth opened an area fruit stand in 1964, and Florida oranges have always been a staple.

"Even this year, we brought in Honeybells and half the fruit came in green and premature. They weren't ripe and had a terrible flavor," he said.

Greening is a bacterial disease spread by the Asian citrus psyllid. There is no cure and no way of knowing a tree is infected until it's too late.

Nick Story has been growing oranges for 50 years and has never seen a threat like this.

"Best knowledge now is that a tree can be infected with this disease and not show symptoms for three years," he said. "We're spending three times what we did before greening on an acre basis, and if we can't produce more, we can't stay in business."

The concern is shared by the entire industry, and since being discovered in 2005 this disease has spread to all 32 of the state's citrus growing counties. It's also been found in Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, Texas and California.

"This is an international citrus crisis," said Andrew Meadows, spokesman for Florida Citrus Mutual. "I would say take a look at your eight-ounce glass of orange juice in the morning and just imagine that not being there because that's how serious it is."

Florida's citrus industry has already lost $4.5 billion and 85,000 jobs with no end in sight.

Florida gets $9 million to study citrus disease

Eighty percent of America's orange juice comes from a Florida processing plant, which typically processes 600,000 gallons of the beverage a day. However, if there are not enough oranges, they cannot keep those numbers up.

"The industry has less production today than it did six or seven years ago. At one point we were over 240 million boxes. Today we're at 140 to 150 million boxes," said Rick Kress, president of Southern Gardens Citrus. "Just drive through the state of Florida and watch the degradation of trees, and you can see the challenge that is ahead of us."

Growers and the government have funneled more than $70 million into finding a cure. But that could take years, which is time many farmers do not have.

For Manuel Bojoroquez's full report, watch the video in the player above.

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