Orange Grove Recovery 041719
( Photo courtesy Florida Department of Citrus )

Orange Groves in one part of Florida experiencing a recovery after dealing with a destructive bacteria called Citrus Greening.

Just west of Orlando, you will find Polk County.  Abby Crawford of Warner University says Polk County is an important place for one agricultural crop.

"Florida ranks first in citrus and Polk county within Florida is the second largest county," says Crawford.

In fact, here around Haines City, you'll find plenty of orange groves but in the mid-2000s, the groves came under attack from the Asian Citrus Psyllid. The insect is smaller than a grain of rice and can infect citrus groves with a bacteria that causes something widely known as greening disease.

"To the consumer, they expect a perfectly orange, round citrus which is what you've always had but now not so much," says Crawford. "So it affected us economically and it also makes our fruit much smaller where our oranges aren't as big today as they once were."

The problem is not a new one with some groves infected for well over a decade.  Some growers switched to alternative crops such as blueberries or peaches.  Others have remained vigilant putting groves under protective screens to keep the insect out.

Researchers are looking at ways to breed resistance into orange trees. One solution may be crossing oranges with something already resistant to greening.  

"If we're able to take a tangerine and an orange and mix them together and the tree is no longer susceptible to citrus greening there we go we have a good solution to start us back up," says Crawford. "The juice won't taste much different it will have more of an intense color but not so much a flavor difference which is really good for the consumer because we are known for our orange juice."

State citrus production is forecast to rise by 76 percent in 2019.  However, that's partly because Hurricane Irma hurt groves back in 2017.  Mother nature and greening disease provided a double punch to the livelihoods of local farmers.  

"You get knocked down but you get back up again," says Crawford. "That to me is the best part of being in the farming industry because nothing's going to hold these guys down when it's in their blood, it's in their genetics, they're not going to stop until they find a cure."

These orange groves still have challenges, but they're making a comeback. Creating a strong citrus industry here in Polk County.