The state is spending $4 million to remove abandoned orange groves across Florida. That’s about four times the budget state agriculture officials had in past years for this effort.
Callie Walker with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said about 125,000 acres of orange groves in the state are abandoned. That’s because some growers just give up on their sickly groves and walk away.
They cannot afford to destroy or repurpose their land. And then, it just becomes breeding and feeding grounds for the psyllid insects, which are spreading citrus greening disease and decimating Florida’s iconic orange industry.
Walker heads programs to remove these “grove graveyards.” For the past couple years, Walker’s project received about $1 million in federal funding each year. But that project recently ended. And now, the Florida Legislature set aside $4 million.
"The Florida Legislature recognized the seriousness of what we've been facing with greening and the issues of abandoned groves, and the fact that they harbor pests and disease," said Walker. "They're trying to work on the issue and help the grower out."
Walker comes from a family of Florida orange growers. She said that’s why she does this work. Leaving abandoned groves to fester allows psyllids to fly to neighboring healthier groves.
Walker said the goal is to remove nearly 18,000 acres with this state funding by simply digging up the diseased groves and then burning them in a pile. And she hopes to accomplish this by the end of June. Walker said right now the number of processed Florida oranges is historically low this season.