Citrus disease affects Florida’s orange trees

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Photo by Amelia Jackson-- The Dr. James P. DePass Citrus Grove, dedicated in 2011, sits between the Rodgers Building and Ordway.

Amelia Jackson

With the disease known as Huanglongbing (HLB), spreading like wildfire across Florida’s citrus community, the need for students majoring in citrus at Florida Southern College is high in demand.

Dr. Malcom Manners with a PhD in horticultural science, specializing in flowering physiology of tropical fruits, is head of the citrus department. He is very optimistic about where the program is headed. 

 “The job market remains excellent and is expected to improve for many years,” Manners said.

Being the only college in the nation offering a major in citrus, guaranteed job placement is a given. However, something in recent years has caused the need of citrus majors to skyrocket.  A bacterial disease called Huanglongbing (HLB), is affecting citrus in the entire U.S., but especially Florida’s famous orange trees. 

HLB works similar to malaria and is carried by a small parasite called a psyllid, that moves from tree to tree spreading disease. As of now, there is no cure for a tree that has been infected.   

 “Although the citrus industry had many diseases during my time at FSC, citrus greening was not a major concern.” Jean Eelman, a former Florida Southern alumnus who graduated with a degree in citrus in 1999, said. 

With HLB on the rise, quite a few new concentrations have been implemented since Eelman attended FSC. These include classes on pest and disease management and day-to-day operations of a farm.

 “We had quite a decline in students interested in the major a few years ago, but in the last 3 or 4 years, as the industry becomes more and more optimistic about real solutions to the disease, student interest has increased, and we’ve been growing,” Manners said. 

Although HLB has not caused harm or a decline to citrus majors, there is a shift in focus.  Eelman explained in our interview that research and “greening” (another name for HLB) was not a focus while she was at school. However, Manners’ responses to questions made it apparent it is now one of, if not the main focus in this particular major.

“For students inclined to do research, there are excellent opportunities for going on to grad school and getting an advanced degree in the topic,” Manners said.   

The University of Florida, and other graduate programs are devoted to researching new ways of fighting HLB and helping to cure already infected trees.  Manners explained that there are new things being researched and much headway has already been achieved.   

Even the orange trees on campus that are seen every day when taking treks to Roux Library, are fighting HLB; but with careful management of irrigation and fertilization they are quite healthy and expected to give strong crops this year.

 

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