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Florida Farmers In Crisis Over Citrus Greening Disease

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) -- Florida's nearly $11-billion-dollar citrus industry faces a growing danger from disease. A tree-killing bacteria is wiping out the state's famous orange groves.

Now, 90 percent are infected, and next year's orange harvest could be one of the lowest on record.

Steve Johnson has walked and worked his family's citrus groves since he was a boy.

"It's not just a job or a business, it's a way of life," said citrus farmer Steve Johnson.

A way of life is in crisis because of the tiny bug that carries a disease from China known as "greening' that appeared in the U.S. in 2005. It's an increasing threat to Florida's entire citrus industry especially when profits are razor-thin for growers like Johnson.

"It's just an emotional time…I'm the fourth generation in my family of this and to give that up would really hurt," said Johnson.

Florida produces more oranges than any country in the world, except Brazil but production is plummeting.

Related: Citrus Decline Continues In Florida

Consider this, in 2004, the state of Florida produced 240 million boxes of oranges. This season, that number is going to drop to 70 million and it's because of greening. That's why researchers are looking at every possible option to try to combat it.

"These fruits are smaller and they're lopsided," said Michael Rogers, an entomologist with the University of Florida's Citrus Education Program."Growers are still harvesting fruit but they aren't harvesting as much fruit as they used to. They're spending three times the money to get that crop and the crop is much smaller."

Researchers are feeling desperate and are trying out groves where mesh netting shields the trees from infection. It's effective but expensive.

Many farmers are having a hard time keeping up. There are 130,000 acres of 'ghost orchards' abandoned and left to the weeds.


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