Florida and citrus. They go hand-in-hand. Oranges are displayed across our license plates while farms line our freeways and roads.
“Southwest Florida region is one of the largest producing regions for the state,” Steve Smith said. Smith is the executive vice president of Gulf Citrus Grower’s Association, which is a trade association that represents citrus growers in Southwest Florida.
Green’s Citrus Groves in Alva has line after line of trees that produce the tangy fruit. It is part of a $9 billion industry in Florida.
At the farm, every 10 acres tells a different story.
“It started as a 10 acre block,” Frank Green said, who is the owner Green Citrus Groves. “Now we’ve built it up to almost 100 acres of citrus. We have a name for each block.
The citrus trees were all planted at different times. Each block has it’s own significance, such as the M&D block, which is short for Mom and Dad.
The family business’ oldest block dates back to 1917.
Bill Green, the third generation farmer of the Valencia oranges, continues to accept more responsibility of the company. He soon will take Frank’s place.
“I depend on Bill,” Frank said, referring to his son, “he keeps it all in his head.”
Despite it being in “a dying industry,” Bill is confident in the direction of the company.
“It’s a rewarding business,” Bill said.
Green Citrus Groves faces signifiant challenges. The juice from its family trees are at risk of drying up due to greening.
Citrus greening is a disease. It is spread by the Asian citrus psyllid insect.
By feeding on the leaves and stems of a citrus tree, the insect infects it with bacteria, causing greening.
Overtime, the infection impairs the tree, as it becomes unable to absorb nourishment. It will produce smaller fruit, in decreasing quantities.
“This yellow striation,” Bill said, pointing at a plump citrus, “that’s greening.”
There is no way to cure an infected citrus tree.
“With greening, it’s the whole tree system from the roots through the fruit itself,” Bill said. “We spend a lot of time and money battling greening. Pretty much the state of Florida is 100 percent affected.”
Bill estimates that 97 percent of Green Citrus Groves has been impacted by greening.
“We’ve had the greening disease for a solid 10 years now,” Smith said, the SWFL trade association’s executive vice president. “That disease impacts the production of the trees. It doesn’t impact the quality of the fruit and the juice is still good.”
Bill hopes the state comes up with an economical way to cure it. The son often contemplates the future of the business.
“So many variables that are uncontrollable,” Bill said. “It’s a tough industry so I hope, actually I pray, that it’ll be here for my grandkids. But you know, we just do the best we can and we’ll see what happens.”
This is their livelihood.
“It’s where I come from,” Bill said. “It’s something to be proud of.”
And the family will continue its resilience.
“It takes a lot of heartache and a lot of sweat, blood and tears,” Bill said. “And you have a whole different appreciation of where things come from when you’ve lived it. It’s a good thing and we all love it. That’s why we do it because it’s not for the money.”
Reporting by Allyssa Dickert