The End of Citrus Essential Oils?

Written by: | March 28, 2016 | 3 responses

There is a terrible problem with citrus crops, and it could mean the end of affordable citrus fruit and citrus essential oils if it isn’t solved soon. Citrus Greening also known as HLB (HuángLóngBìng) or Yellow Dragon Disease, is a serious and fatal disease threatening citrus production in many regions around the globe including Asia, Africa, the Indian subcontinent, the United States, Brazil, Mexico and the Arabian Peninsula. Wherever the disease has appeared it has nearly decimated citrus production.

What is Citrus Greening?

First reported in southern China in 1919, Citrus Greening has caused devastation and the loss of millions of acres of citrus crops across the globe. It was found in Brazil in 2004 and then in Florida in 2005. It has now spread to 15 US states and territories, which are now under full or partial quarantine in an effort to stop the spread. Early symptoms of the disease often resemble mineral deficiencies, and the blotchy mottled leaves can be confused with other diseases making it hard to immediately identify as Citrus Greening. Infected tress produce less fruit, and fruit that is green and misshapen. The infected fruit often falls from the tree prematurely, and they have a salty, bitter taste. Citrus Greening is caused by the bacterium Candidatus Liberibacter Asiaticus and is spread by disease-infected Asian Citrus Psyllids; insects that are no bigger than the head of a pin. Once infected, the disease attacks the tree’s phloem system. Phloem is the vascular tissue that carries organic nutrients (known as photosynthate), to all parts of the plant where needed, including the roots and leaves. If not stopped, the tree will die after only two years.

What’s the forecast for 2016?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued its initial forecast for the 2015-2016 Florida orange crop estimating a 17% drop from last season, which was already down nearly eight million boxes than the year before. In December, the USDA issued a revision to its initial forecast estimating another 3% drop. Grapefruit crops fared even worse with the USDA estimating a decrease of 50% from 2012-2013.

“We expected the estimate to be lower than the prior year, so this really isn’t too much of a surprise,” Michael Sparks, executive vice president and CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual, the state’s largest grower’s association. “We are in a challenging time right now with severe disease pressure.’’

What’s the Cure?

As one of the most fatal plant diseases in the world, Citrus Greening currently has no cure. Some solutions are being investigated including hot steam treatments.Trees are covered in plastic tents, and use solar power to generate steam and heat to kill the insects and bacteria. Benzbromarone, which has long been used to treat gout in humans, has also been used with mixed results. The most promising potential solution is the development of Zinkicide created by Swadeshmukul Santra, an associate professor in the NanoScience Technology Center at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. Zinkicide is designed to kill the Citrus-Greening bacteria, but how it’s delivered is what makes it unique. Zinkicide is a nanoparticle smaller than a single microscopic cell, and Santra believes it can move from cell to cell to kill the Citrus Greening bacteria. Zinkicide is derived from ingredients already found in plants and is designed to break down and be metabolized after its job is done. While Zinkicide is promising, it is still in development and most likely won’t be available for at least five more years.

What You Can Do to Prepare

You don’t want to stop offering citrus-scented products! They are popular with all ages and genders, and nothing is as bright and refreshing as a burst of citrus. But … you also need to be sure you’re managing your costs and you are guaranteeing the quality of the EOs you use. We recommend you to plan ahead on your ingredient and EO orders, and build a bigger safety stock than you normally would. As the shortage worsens, citrus EOs will be less available and it may take longer to acquire the EOs you need. One way we’re managing this crisis for our customers is to purchase larger amounts of those citrus EOs with longer shelf life. We gain a larger safety stock, and as well, take advantage of today’s pricing. It also helps us better manage costs increases, and of course, we pass those savings on to you. Because one thing we know for sure is that pricing will go up as this disease spreads. You will also see more adulteration of citrus EOs and more synthetic oils on the market. They may seem cheaper, but they aren’t really the pure EO you’ve come to count on. So no matter where you purchase your Essential Oils, it’s important to buy from sources you trust.

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