HLB: The Problem for Processors

Ernie NeffProcessing

Many stories have been written about the woes HLB disease has caused Florida’s citrus growers; fewer have been written about the problems HLB causes Florida citrus processors. Kristen Carlson presented the processors’ side of the story during the recent International Citrus & Beverage Conference hosted by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Carlson is executive director of the Florida Citrus Processors Association (FCPA).

Carlson described HLB as “our monster,” adding that “slaying this monster is the principal quest of the Florida citrus industry.” Citrus processors are part of that quest because they need a stable supply of fruit with which to make orange juice (OJ).

In addition to lower orange production, the fruit produced has lower Brix levels, likely caused by HLB stress, Carlson said. Lower Brix levels impact the making of not-from-concentrate (NFC) OJ because the federal Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) pasteurized OJ standard requires a minimum 10.5 Brix level.

According to Carlson, this season, the average Brix for oranges grown in Florida was just 10.5, and processors needed to blend it with higher Brix oranges to make sure the product passes inspection. She explained that when blending supplies are depleted, NFC from foreign markets is needed to meet the U.S. standard.

Carlson outlined strategies being pursued to alleviate the production and Brix problems. For one, FCPA and Florida Citrus Mutual are asking FDA to allow “enforcement discretion” which would result in a minimum Brix of 10.0 instead of 10.5.

Another strategy, which Carlson called “the Holy Grail,” is to expedite the development of HLB-tolerant or HLB-resistant trees. But she cautioned that if HLB resistance is found via hybrid trees, the quest isn’t over. That’s because OJ standards require use of juice from sweet oranges, and new HLB-resistant trees likely will not be sweet orange.

An additional strategy to alleviate the production problem is replanting incentives offered by processors, as well as planting incentives offered by the Citrus Research and Field Trial program.

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About the Author

Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large