Production of citrus crops in the state of Florida has declined by more than 70 percent since 2005. The culprit? A bacterial plant disease called Citrus Greening, also known as Huanglongbing (HLB) or yellow dragon disease. 

First discovered in China in 1919, Citrus Greening leads to dramatic decline of tree health and productivity within five years and is spread by an insect called the Asian citrus psyllid. Nearly all commercial orchards in Florida – the second-largest producer of orange juice globally – are infected with the disease.

The Coca-Cola Company is funding a newly annnounced collaborative research partnership between Bayer and the Citrus Research and Development Foundation (CRDF), a nonprofit organization in Florida supporting citrus growers, to find solutions to this disease as it continues to threaten the global citrus production and juice industry.  

“Without advanced tools to control Citrus Greening, the citrus industry in Florida could be out of business within 10 to 15 years,” said Adrian Percy, head of R&D at Bayer’s crop science division. “This research project will address key elements of a holistic agronomic solution for citrus growers to help battle this devastating disease.”

Bayer will provide access to its disease control expertise and coordinate public and private research to find novel solutions for Citrus Greening in Florida and beyond. Research will focus on identifying biological disease control solutions or molecules that modulate the plants’ innate immune defense system. Any potential treatment resulting from the multi-year research project would be further developed and commercialized by Bayer.

“Anti-bacterial solutions are considered to be crucial by the industry to preserve citrus in Florida until disease-tolerant citrus trees will be available,” said Harold Browning, COO of CRDF. “This agreement is an important step to ensure the survival and competitiveness of Florida ́s citrus growers through innovation.”

Coca-Cola is a major player in the orange juice market with its Minute Maid and Simply Orange brands and has a longstanding commitment to the state of Florida and its citrus crop. In 2013, Coca-Cola committed $2 billion to support the planting of 25,000 new acres of orange groves in Florida.