Going Green, Collapsing Citrus, and Blood Avocados

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For decades, Florida was the undisputed citrus capital of the world. The state’s groves produced copious amounts of orange juice. At one point, more than 75% of American refrigerators contained orange juice (click HERE). Florida orange juice was marked as “liquid sunshine” and was to breakfast what fireworks were to Independence Day.

The citrus industry in Florida today is on the verge of complete collapse. A 2005 outbreak of a bacterial disease known by its Chinese name Huanglongbing has spread like wildfire through the sunshine state and now infects almost all citrus groves. Known more commonly as “citrus greening disease,” the bacteria begins in a tree’s roots and slowly chokes off nutrients from reaching the fruit. Leaves wilt, the fruit turns green and sour, and eventually the tree dies. It is transmitted from tree to tree via the Asian citrus psyllid (click HERE), a small insect that specifically targets citrus.

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Most attempts to roll back the disease within an infected tree have failed. Thermotherapy that heats the trees in tents to 100 degrees for several days merely extends the tree’s life by a few years. Scientists are now focusing on the next generation of trees. Efforts include raising genetically modified citrus trees (click HERE) and even the introduction of parasitic Pakistani wasps that target the disease transmitting psyllid (click HERE).

So what? Given that America’s love affair with orange juice was already waning (concerns over sugar, changing breakfast habits, and lots of competitive offerings) before citrus greening (click HERE), might Florida’s greening be an opportunity? Consider that while orange juice consumption plunges, avocado consumption is skyrocketing. In the last 10 years, America’s per capita consumption of avocados has almost doubled to ~2 pounds per year.

Given adequate local water supply, developed infrastructure, and the cooperative climate, could avocados save Florida's agriculture industry?  Granted, Florida’s avocados are not as fatty or creamy as the Mexican Haas variety, but they're also not generating gang warfare.  The US imports more than $1 billion of Haas avocados from Mexico's Michoacán, a state plagued by gang warfare over the revenues generated by what locals call "oro verde" (green gold).  Might Americans willing forgo "blood avocados" (click HERE) in favor of supporting Florida?

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