Ben McLean is oddly optimistic for someone fighting, daily, to save his company. The Florida farmer and vice president of Uncle Matt’s Organic says he has seen the fruit on around a third of his citrus trees turn green, hard, and inedible.
McLean’s losses mirror the rest of the state’s citrus industry, which has lost an estimated $4.5 billion to “huanglongbing” (HLB) or Citrus Greening Disease. But as an organic farmer, he can’t spray synthetic pesticides to kill the tiny, scaly insects called the Asian citrus psyllids, known for transmitting Candidatus Liberibacter, the pathogen that causes the disease. In the last year, he has had to approach the problem with a lot of creativity and perseverance. But McLean doesn’t think he’s any worse off than his conventional counterparts.
Much of the coverage of Citrus Greening Disease–including this widely discussed New York Times article from July 2013–has pointed to early trials of a genetically engineered (GE) orange tree bred to be resistant to HLB as the only real solution. But McLean isn’t so sure.