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Texas Confirms First Case of Citrus Greening in Orange Grove

Texas and federal officials have confirmed the state’s first case of citrus greening, a plant disease that has caused extensive damage to Florida’s orange crop.

The disease was found in a tree in a commercial orange grove in the city of San Juan, in Hidalgo Country, part of which has been placed under quarantine, the Texas Department of Agriculture said today in a statement. The case was confirmed by state officials and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Texas is the nation’s second-biggest producer of grapefruit and the third-largest orange grower with 28,295 acres in commercial production in the Rio Grande Valley. Last season, the state produced 1.95 million boxes of oranges, behind California’s 61.5 million and Florida’s 140.3 million, according to USDA statistics. A box weighs 90 pounds, or 41 kilograms.

“With a statewide economic impact of more than $140 million, our citrus industry is a vital part of the Texas agricultural economy and the economy of the Rio Grande Valley,” Todd Staples, the state agriculture commissioner, said in the statement. The state “will aggressively work with USDA and our industry partners to protect our vital citrus industry.”

No Cure

State and federal officials are surveying Hidalgo County to gauge the extent of the disease, which is transmitted by an insect called the citrus psyllid and for which there is no cure, the Texas agency said. A revised quarantine zone will be set on Jan. 20, based on the findings, it said. The disease affects only the tree and not the fruit, and poses no threat to human health, according to the statement.

“This is bullish” for orange-juice futures that already are up 26 percent since the end of September, Sterling Smith, an analyst with Country Hedging in St. Paul Minnesota, wrote in an e-mail. “These things are nasty and can cause lot of trouble.”

The finding “underscores the urgency of the situation in the domestic citrus industry,” Andrew Meadows, the director of communications at Florida Citrus Mutual, the state’s largest grower organization, said in an e-mail from Lakeland. “Growers are facing a crisis that threatens our very future. Research has got to find short- and long-term solutions to greening so we can continue to be a viable industry.”

Orange juice for March delivery rose 2.8 percent to $1.8955 a pound at 12:25 p.m. on ICE Futures U.S. in New York. Before today, the price jumped 9.1 percent this month after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration detained orange-juice imports to investigate the presence of a banned fungicide. Trace elements of the chemical have been detected in products from Brazil, the world’s biggest orange producer. Florida is the second-largest.

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