Florida’s citrus industry is facing serious threats from an Asian insect. The insect can be a carrier of bacteriathat attack citrus trees. The spread of the bacteria shows the danger of bringing non-native organisms to American soil.
Florida’s citrus growers are world famous for their production of oranges, lemons, limes and other citrus fruit. But now they are burning orange trees damaged by a brown insect called psyllid. The insect comes from Asia and carries what the Chinese call the “yellow dragon disease”.
Bacteria from the insects block the capillary system inside the trees. Slowly, the trees choketo death. The fruit from the diseased trees is small. It falls off the tree, and the tree eventually dies.
No citrus-growing countries have developed a cure. Farmer Ellis Hunt is very worried. In his words, “when you spend the money to raise it, and get it almost there, and it turns loose and hits the ground, that’s …a disaster. That’s heartbreaking”.
Florida’s $9-billion citrus growing industry is second only to Brazil. It is fighting foreign competition and a drop in sales in the United States. Sales are decreasing because Americans are avoiding sugar and carbohydratesfor health reasons. The citrus industry’s 75,000 jobs depend on finding a cure to the disease.
Scientists are working to save the existing trees. They include some of the world’s best botanists, or plant experts, and entomologists – scientists specializing in insects. These scientists are also trying to grow new trees that can resist the bacterium and make it impossible for insects to transport the disease.
Entomologist Kirsten Pelz-Stelinski said the problem is keeping her awake at night. She said, “It’s something I think about every day. I think about it at night when I’m supposed to be sleeping. It’s a huge problem, and we need to come up with as many as tools as we can”.
Ms. Pelz-Stelinski said it may take as long as five years to find a way to make the psyllid bug free of the dangerous bacteria.
For now, botanists are experimenting with grafting to keep the existing trees alive. Grafting is a technique that connects a part of one tree to another tree; the two parts grow together to become a single tree. Citrus farmers are also working to control the disease by spraying the trees and feeding them with nutrients.
Words in the News
bacteria- n. living things that are one cell and can be seen only through a microscope; some cause disease.
capillary- n. resembling a hair especially in slender elongated form.
choke - n. to make (someone) unable to breathe in a normal way
heartbreaking - n. causing intense sorrow or distress.
carbohydrates- n. any one of various substances found in certain foods (such as bread, rice, and potatoes) that provide your body with heat and energy and are made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.