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A.I. may be the way to stop deadly disease decimating Florida's citrus groves

Citrus greening (Huanglongbing) is reeking havoc on Florida's citrus industry.
David Bartels, USDA-APHIS
Citrus greening (Huanglongbing) is reeking havoc on Florida's citrus industry.

The 2021-2022 citrus production forecast has Florida growers producing about 44-million boxes, that’s about 16% less than last season.

Florida’s share of U.S. citrus production in 2019-2020 is 73.2 million boxes, down 5 percent from the previous season’s 77.4 million boxes. All orange production decreased by 6 percent to 67.3 million boxes. Back in 2007-2008, the orange crop finished at 170.2 million boxes, and in and 2003-2004 it was 291.8 million boxes.

One of the major factors at play in this decline is the devastating disease known as 'citrus greening’ -- or its scientific name Huanglongbing (HLB).

It's caused by a bacterium that is spread by a small insect called an Asian citrus psyllid. It first turned up here in Florida in 2005, and since then has caused major impacts to the state’s citrus industry -- reducing production numbers by more than half since it first arrived.

Citrus greening has crippled Florida’s citrus industry and has already been detected in California, which grows 80% of America’s fresh citrus.

While there is no cure for the disease, and researchers are working on that, farmers need to keep costs down as much as possible to remain profitable in the face of HLB.

New technology being tested by researchers at the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and University of Florida (UF/IFAS) is using artificial intelligence to develop a low-cost, smart tree-crop sprayer that can automatically detect citrus trees, calculate their height and leaf density and count fruit.

We'll also get a historical overview from Tom Bayles is an environmental reporter here at WGCU.

Dr. Yiannis Ampatzidis, Associate Professor in UF’s Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department at the Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee
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“This new technology will further enhance the tree-profiling systems we have in place today, with the ability to detect and only spray the target foliage. Our data, collected by smart sensors, can control the amount of spray applied to the tree, in real time, and is stored in the controller to be downloaded for further processing.”
Dr. Yiannis Ampatzidis, agricultural engineer for UF/IFAS

According to UF/IFAS, the new smart tree-crop sprayer tech allows farmers to reduce chemical use by about 30%, compared to traditional spray methods.

New technology developed by Yiannis Ampatzidis at the UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center applies more pesticide and fertilizers to fruit trees, meaning fewer chemicals in the environment.
Dr. Yiannis Ampatzidis, Associate Professor in UF’s Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department at the Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee
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New technology developed by Yiannis Ampatzidis at the UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center applies more pesticide and fertilizers to fruit trees, meaning fewer chemicals in the environment.

GUESTS

  • Dr. Yiannis Ampatzidis, Associate Professor in UF’s Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department at the Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee
  • Tom Bayles, WGCU Environmental Reporter

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