Citrus nurseries struggling to keep up with demand

By Rick Elmhorst, Anchor/Reporter
Last Updated: Wednesday, September 26, 2012, 10:35 AM EDT

Florida's multi-billion dollar citrus industry has a problem.

Plant diseases have been killing off thousands of acres of trees.

Compounding the issue is the shortage of nursery trees to plant and replace old and diseased trees.

Workers at the Rucks Citrus Nursery in Frostproof are turning out nursery trees at the rate of a million per year. But there simply aren't enough nurseries like Rucks to keep up with the demand.

Diseases like canker and greening have wiped out tens of thousands of acres of citrus trees in the state during the last few years. And government regulations now require nursery trees to be grown indoors in an attempt to avoid disease.

That's forced some nurseries out of business and many grove owners can't get the trees they need.

"There's a lot of pressure because people want them (trees) quickly," said nursery owner Phillip Rucks. "So we try to have the turnover quicker."

Rucks figures the production of citrus nursery trees is down by about two-thirds from before the new regulations went into effect in 2008. He added there could be a shortage of nursery trees for at least several more years.

Also, the Lakeland-based growers organization "Florida Citrus Mutual" took a survey of its members and found about a quarter of growers can not get enough trees for their groves.