Orange Crop Damage: Asian Citrus Psyllid


Oranges at Risk

According to a recent article in Farm Futures by Mike Wilson, orange growers in Florida are caught in a tough situation that could cost them their livelihoods.  A terrible pest called the Asian citrus psyllid is spreading a disease that is plaguing the state’s citrus groves and moving west to Texas and California as well.  

Damaging Disease

This nasty little guy lands on the leaves of the citrus trees and infects them with a bacterial disease.  The disease incubates in the root system and spreads through the trunk, cutting off the flow of nutrients to the fruit.  Obviously, the starving fruit suffers.  It ends ups dry and sour.  That’s definitely not the way consumers have become accustomed to enjoying their delicious Florida oranges.



Good News!

Scientists at Texas A&M University are developing a genetically engineered solution from a spinach gene.  This gene can be inserted in an infected orange tree to create a resistance to the bacteria’s destruction and, therefore, significantly decrease the pesticides that are currently being sprayed on the groves to combat these invasive pests. 


Consumer Confidence?

An extensive report came out recently from the National Academy of Sciences confirming once again the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  So consumers will be thrilled to continue their regular consumption of oranges, right?  Farmers sure hope so!  Despite numerous endorsements and assurances by the science community, the public still seems tentative to let go of  their concerns about GMOs.  Agriculture professionals around the country are spreading the word about this most recent report.  And after reading this thorough report, Mark Lynas, an environmentalist and former anti-GMO activist turned supporter, recently proclaimed "The GMO debate is over -again."  The truth about the  confirmed safety and continued good that are developing from the revolutionary science behind GMOs is slowly seeping out from under the pile of confusion and misinformation.  Scientists, farmers, and environmentalists remain hopeful for long term answers for our environment and our growing population!



Scientific Advancements 

The science behind GMOs is innovative and ingenious.  After watching this short clip, I learned that by isolating individual chromosomes, scientists can speed up and refine the process of managing nature, which people have been doing for thousands of years.  Instead of randomly cross-breeding or blasting plants with radiation and chemicals to break down the DNA, scientists are now able to replace one particular problematic chromosome with a beneficial one and keep the rest of the plant’s DNA intact.  These replacement chromosomes, taken from other naturally occurring organisms, can infuse the plant with characteristics to withstand environmental hardships such as insects, weed competition or even risks from drought and flooding.  


How To Proceed?

So what is a Florida orange grower to do?  His current choices seem to be either  1.) continue pouring money and chemicals into his groves with little results, or  2.) risk consumers’ rejection of a safe product because of misinformation.  What would you do if you were one of these farmers who is caught between a rock and a hard place?