A summer survey by Florida Citrus Mutual (flcitrusmutual.com), the state’s largest growers’ association, shows producers desire to increase grove acreage. Some 40 percent of respondents plan to do more business with nurseries supplying young trees.

Based on his interactions with the citrus industry, Bob Norberg, deputy executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus, isn’t surprised.

Norberg, an economist, says growers are expressing optimism despite daunting issues with disease, problems with the economy, and a continuing recovery from a series of hurricanes.

In 2004 and 2005, four major hurricanes rampaged through the Florida citrus belt at full strength, causing significant short-term and long-term damage to the industry. Not only were the immediate crops impacted (in the neighborhood of 30 percent to 35 percent reduction in expected yields), but there was also long-term damage to trees: leaves blown off, scaffolding and limbs torn up, and root systems waterlogged and harmed due to too much water in the groves.

The hurricanes “also allowed the spread of two diseases that we’re dealing with to this day,” says Norberg. “One, citrus canker, affects the appearance of the fruit.” (More at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citrus_canker)

There are countries and states that will not allow the import of fruit with citrus canker lesions on the skin. “That obviously limits the market potential of the fruit,” says Norberg.

Growers combat citrus canker bacteria with a copper spray. But such spraying “isn’t sustainable for a long period of time, since the material builds up in the soil.”

The second disease that was spread by hurricanes is Huanglongbing, or HLB (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huanglongbing), more commonly known as “citrus greening. The disease involves a bacteria that gets into the vascular system of a citrus tree, clogs up nutrient byways and, eventually, the tree dies.”