A fungal disease is affecting all types of orange trees statewide right now. It’s called PFD, or post bloom fruit drop. The fungus causes oranges to fall off prematurely. El Niño weather patterns that brought rainy, foggy days this winter helped spread the disease.
Bryan Beer is a fifth generation orange grower in Southwest Florida. At one of the groves he manages in Hendry County, Beer said he’s heard “horror stories” about PFD from growers.
"This disease has just annihilated their whole crop for next year that they won't even have anything to pick," said Beer. "And you can see how bad it is on just this one tree."
Beer grabbed an orange tree branch and pointed to what’s called a “button.” When the orange falls off, it leaves what the fruit would normally be attached to. He said it’s a sign the tree is in trouble.
University of Florida researcher Megan Dewdney has studied citrus trees for nearly a decade. She said there’s a combination of factors contributing to the current fungal spread in Florida.
For one, the orange trees are already stressed from battling the citrus greening disease, so they’re blooming at odd times. And then El Niño brought more rain than normal for winter. Dewdney said the unusual blooms plus unusual rains allowed the fungus to thrive.
"The flowers were stimulating a small amount of the fungus ‘til the major bloom showed up and then that coincided with the El Niño patterns of wet, cool-ish winter, which was perfect for the fungus," she said.
Dewdney said this is a widespread problem throughout the state. But she said we won’t know the extent of crops lost until the summer.
Local grower Bryan Beer said he thinks it’s going to be "very, very, very bad."