Make us your home page
Instagram

Trouble lurks in growing volume of abandoned citrus groves

Ripples from Florida's recession continue to claim more victims. This time it's one of the state's iconic industries — citrus.

Groves increasingly are abandoned by financially stretched owners no longer able to care for the citrus trees. Other groves, snapped up in boom times by speculators planning a quick flip, are ignored now that buyers see there's no development heading their way.

The result? Across Florida's citrus belt, 138,516 acres of groves lie officially abandoned. That's up more than 6 percent from 2008.

A grove is considered abandoned when it has not been cared for nor produced a commercial harvest within the past two years, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The greater Tampa Bay area, stretching from Citrus County in the north to Polk County in the east to Manatee County to the south, accounts for more than 22,600 acres of abandoned citrus groves. Abandonment is most acute in citrus-heavy counties such as Polk (10,791 acres abandoned) and, No. 1 statewide, St. Lucie County (27,321 acres abandoned) on Florida's east coast.

Suburban Pinellas County, which has slowly watched its modest citrus industry be replaced by sprawl and development, is one of the smallest counties still producing citrus. Pinellas and Alachua County are least affected by abandoned citrus groves.

Just as acres of abandoned groves are slowly increasing, land devoted to growing citrus in Florida continues to shrink. In 1972, Florida boasted just under 660,000 acres devoted to oranges and just over 878,000 to all citrus crops.

In 2010, the numbers are far smaller: 483,418 acres for orange crops and 554,037 for all citrus.

The decline can be blamed on encroaching development, land costs, foreign competition and — let's come full circle — increasing numbers of abandoned citrus groves.

The citrus industry hates abandoned groves because they often become havens for disease. If no one is paying attention to the citrus trees — spraying them to fight bugs or burning them when they cannot be salvaged — they can fall vulnerable to citrus canker and, much more onerous these days, citrus greening.

In the worst-case scenario, an active citrus grove finds itself adjacent and vulnerable to a diseased grove.

Both canker and greening (also known as yellow dragon disease) hurt citrus but have different effects. Citrus canker mars the look of citrus. So while any affected fruit cannot be sold as fresh fruit, it can be used to produce juice. But citrus greening, caused by tiny lice known as the Asian citrus cyllid, produces shriveled and bitter tasting fruit. It cannot be used for anything.

In Florida, 95 percent of the orange crop is processed to produce juice. That's why the citrus industry is more panicked over the spread of greening than canker.

Efforts against these diseases exist but are limited by the lack of cures.

"Because of the cyllid and threat of citrus greening, we need to get abandoned groves cleaned up," says Mike Fagan, a Florida Department of Agriculture spokesman.

Think of it like the Middle Ages, terrorized by the plague. As recessionary ripples go, this one's nasty.

Contact Robert Trigaux at trigaux@sptimes.com.

Abandoned citrus groves, by county

Citrus: 120 acres

Hernando: 909 acres

Hillsborough: 5,217 acres

Manatee: 3,460 acres

Pasco: 2,085 acres

Pinellas: minimal

Polk: 10,791 acres

Florida (total): 138,516 acres

Source: USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, Sept. 2010

Trouble lurks in growing volume of abandoned citrus groves 10/27/10 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 1:42am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Federal agencies demand records from SeaWorld theme park

    Tourism

    ORLANDO — Two federal agencies are reportedly demanding financial records from SeaWorld.

    Killer whales Ikaika and Corky participate in behaviors commonly done in the wild during SeaWorld's Killer Whale educational presentation in this photo from Jan. 9. SeaWorld has been subpoenaed by two federal agencies for comments that executives and the company made in August 2014 about the impact from the "Blackfish" documentary. 
[Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS]
  2. Legalized medical marijuana signed into law by Rick Scott

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed into law a broader medical marijuana system for the state, following through on a promise he made earlier this month.

    Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation on Friday that legalizes medical marijuana in Florida.
  3. Line of moms welcome Once Upon A Child to Carrollwood

    Business

    CARROLLWOOD — Strollers of all shapes and sizes are lined up in front of the store, and inside, there are racks of children's clothing in every color of the rainbow.

    At Once Upon A Child, you often as many baby strollers outside as you find baby furniture and accessories. It recently opened this location in Carrollwood. Photo by Danielle Hauser
  4. Pastries N Chaat brings North India cuisine to North Tampa

    Business

    TAMPA — Pastries N Chaat, a new restaurant offering Indian street food, opened this week near the University of South Florida.

    The menu at Pastries N Chaat includes a large variety of Biriyani, an entree owners say is beloved by millions. Photo courtesy of Pastries N Chaat.
  5. 'Garbage juice' seen as threat to drinking water in Florida Panhandle county

    Water

    To Waste Management, the nation's largest handler of garbage, the liquid that winds up at the bottom of a landfill is called "leachate," and it can safely be disposed of in a well that's 4,200 feet deep.

    Three samples that were displayed by Jackson County NAACP President Ronstance Pittman at a public meeting on Waste Management's deep well injection proposal. The sample on the left is full of leachate from the Jackson County landfill, the stuff that would be injected into the well. The sample on the right shows leachate after it's been treated at a wastewater treatment plant. The one in the middle is tap water.