Moving Beyond Greening

Daniel CooperCitrus Greening, Economics

Photo by Frank Giles

By Tom Spreen

When citrus greening was first discovered in Florida, it did not have a profound impact on production. The big news at that time was the multiple hurricanes that had crossed Florida in 2004 and 2005. The hurricanes served to spread citrus canker so sufficiently that the state of Florida was forced to abandon its efforts to eradicate the disease in January 2006. Citrus production in the state, however, recovered.

By the 2010–11 season, attempts to control citrus greening through tree removal had all but ceased. Growers tried to deal with the disease through enhanced nutritional programs. Although the enhanced nutritional approach appeared to be working, it is likely that it benefited non-infected trees and did not slow the spread of the disease.

A slow decline of Florida citrus production across all varieties continued until the arrival of Hurricane Irma in 2017. There was some recovery after Irma, but then Hurricane Ian hit in 2022, taking a path like Hurricane Charley back in 2004. Hurricane Ian, however, was a much larger storm than Charley and caused wider damage across much of Southwest and Central Florida.

As the 2023–24 season winds down, there finally appears to be a light at the end of a 15-year tunnel. Oxytetracycline (OTC) applied through trunk injection is showing promise of suppressing the effects of citrus greening. Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture projects the 2023–24 Florida round orange crop at less than 20 million boxes and Florida grapefruit production at 2 million boxes, there is evidence that a tool to combat citrus greening has been found.


Unfortunately, millions of Florida citrus trees have been eradicated over the past decade. A number of growers have either left citrus production or severely cut back acreage. This has left a much smaller base to rebuild the state’s citrus industry.

Some might argue that I am being premature, but it is time to consider how to rebuild an industry that once accounted for $8 billion of economic activity annually and thousands of jobs. The question now confronting Florida citrus is how to initiate a rebuilding process. Despite the closure of several processing plants and dozens of fresh packinghouses, there remains a considerable stock of infrastructure to support a larger citrus industry.

Thousands of vacant acres remain that once were home to citrus groves. Although some of this land has been converted to vegetables and sod, those two crops will never cover hundreds of thousands of acres of tillable land.

The population boom is also removing land that once was allocated to citrus production. This boom has been fueled by the retirement of baby boomers moving to Florida from other states. The United States Department of Census notes that the baby-boom generation are those individuals born between 1946 and 1964. The tail end of the baby-boom generation turns 60 this year, suggesting that population growth in Florida may soon slow.


Florida’s Natural Growers had success stimulating replanting of citrus trees through its planting incentive program. Using interest-free loans, 1.8 million round orange trees and 50,000 lemon trees were planted that are now coming into production. While there is considerable incentive for other processors to initiate a similar program, to date none have chosen to follow that path to stimulate new tree plantings.

Research conducted by the Economic and Market Research Department of the Florida Department of Citrus suggests that there would be a considerable benefit to the state of Florida if a publicly funded planting incentive program was initiated. The benefits would include increased economic activity, especially in rural interior Central and South Florida.


The main competitors to Florida citrus in the world market — Brazil and Mexico — are also dealing with issues of their own. World supply of orange juice has contracted as orange production in Florida has contracted. Brazil and Mexico have not been able to expand to compensate for Florida’s decline. World grapefruit production has declined dramatically. There remains an opportunity for Florida to ramp up its citrus production.

Tom Spreen is professor emeritus in the Food and Resource Economics Department of the University of Florida and senior economic consultant in the Economic and Market Research Department of the Florida Department of Citrus.

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