What other risks does our food supply face considering the added destruction of Florida oranges from Hurricane Irma? Florida’s orange trees face a bacterial threat that makes their fruit unusable, and could lead to Americans getting all their orange juice from Brazil and beyond in the future. Now scientists are working on a way to prevent the bacteria from hurting the trees. Julie Wernau writes:
A disease called “citrus greening” is pushing Florida’s orange juice industry toward the brink of collapse. Greening starts at the leaves and works its way through the tree like a hardening of the arteries, blocking nutrients and water. Oranges drop off branches unripe and unusable. This year’s crop will likely be the smallest since the 1940s.
So miserable is the condition of Florida’s orange industry that farmers are banking on inventing a genetically engineered orange that will be ready for sale—at the earliest—in 2022.
The secret grove—1.5 acres of knee-high trees created with a spinach gene scientists hope can defend against the disease—is down an unmarked road and behind locked gates. Visitors are logged; the company requested photographs taken by a reporter offer no clues to the grove’s location.
“We’re a bunch of scientists sitting on 12,000 acres and a giant orange juice plant we need to use,” said Tim Eyrich, vice president of research and commercialization at Southern Gardens Citrus, the company developing the engineered fruit. “If this collapses, all your orange juice comes from Brazil.”
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