Citrus disease could impact store prices

7:24 PM, Dec 13, 2013   |    comments
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Bartow, Florida - Florida's signature industry may be in jeopardy. 

"I think most people, when they think of orange juice, they think of Florida," says grower Vic Story as he walks through a grove near Bartow. 

Story started helping his own father in the groves at age eight and over the past 60 years he's weathered a lot of problems. "Freezes, low prices, canker," he says, ticking off things on his fingers. But he says the bacterial disease citrus greening, spread by a tiny insect, is the most frightening.

"The others impacted a segment; this one threatens the whole industry," says Story.

The tree killer is now in all 32 Florida counties where citrus is grown. Greening prohibits nutrients from flowing through a tree: leaves turn yellow, fruit remains small, and fruit falls off the trees early. It's the reason this year's crop is expected to be the smallest in 24 years.

"This is the most devastating disease we've ever grappled with; we're talking jobs for Floridians, infrastructure," says Mike Sparks of Florida Citrus Mutual, an industry trade association.

90% of Florida oranges go towards making juice - so will store prices now rise? Sparks says maybe, but not immediately, because juice producers have a lot of stored inventory. But eventually, consumers may find juice prices hard to swallow.

"Ultimately, it's going to be higher prices at the super market," says Sparks.

Growers like Story are now pinning their hopes on research and the federal government is also getting involved with the crisis, because finding a cure is the only way to ensure a bright future. A future Story says he wants for his sons: "It's gratifying to be a farmer."

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