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Trade is forcing changes upon American farmers
Grass is always greener...
Don GardnerColor
Don Gardner is a University of Georgia Extension agent who lives in Bryan County. - photo by File photo

I believe trade is good. Trade creates wealth. Two countries that trade fairly together can produce more goods than separately.

Here on the Georgia coast, our major cities — Savannah, Brunswick and Darien — were built on trade. The ports of Savannah and Brunswick are keys to much of the wealth of this state.

So on the whole, trade is good. But there are downsides to trade. Trade, by its very nature, spans boundaries. When we trade, we not only share goods, but ideas, diseases and pests as well.

The Silk Road opened trade between China and Europe. Europeans received silk, spices and gunpowder, but also fleas that carried the bacterium that resulted in bubonic plague that killed between a third and half of the population of Europe.

Import Asian chestnuts for your garden, and you import the fungus that caused chestnut blight. Chestnut blight wiped out 200,000 acres of the major tree of the Appalachians in only 50 years.

Import goods from China into Savannah in 2002 on pallets made of wood that had not been kiln-dried, and the result is laurel wilt that wiped out the red bay, Persea borbonia in Georgia and continues to march across the Southeast. The red bay was not of much economic importance and it did not attract much interest from the people controlling research money, until it hopped into southern Florida, where it threatens Persea americana, the avocado. Now you know why you are seeing TV advertising for avocados from Mexico.

When you think of Florida, two things usually come to mind — Mickey Mouse and citrus groves. Florida has more than half a million acres in citrus groves, and a conservative estimate says 80 percent have citrus greening. Citrus greening was first discovered in 1919 in China. The disease bounced around China, the Philippines and South Africa for decades. In 1967, it was finally proved that this disease was transmitted by the Asian citrus psyllid. In 1998 that psyllid was found in Florida and in 2005, the disease was confirmed in Florida.

Citrus greening is called huanglongbing disease (HBL), which literally translates as "yellow dragon disease."

The psyllid transmits a bacterium that causes the symptoms, such as mottled leaves, misshapen, unmarketable fruit and fruit that turns green after ripening, hence the name. In 2015, 130,000 acres of the half million acres of commercial citrus groves in Florida were abandoned. In 2004, the year citrus greening was first detected; Florida produced 242 million boxes of oranges. In 2014 only 115 million boxes of oranges were produced.

Florida citrus growers are casting about for new crops. Peaches seem to be gathering traction. Others are looking at blueberries and strawberries. Since southern and much of coastal Georgia are now in Zone 9A (subtropical) we see Georgia farmers starting Satsuma groves, while Florida growers are abandoning theirs.

The Asian citrus psyllid has been found in Glynn County but not HBL, yet. Georgia is now the No. 1 producer of blueberries, unseating Michigan, and Florida sees possibilities.

Georgia is known as the Peach State, but is actually the Chicken State. California and South Carolina usually outproduce Georgia in peaches. Now, Florida may in a few years be challenging Georgia for peach bragging rights.

The only constant in agriculture is change. Sometimes, we drive the change, but more often, we are reacting to forces we either cannot or do not control.

"Improvise, adapt and overcome" is not limited to the Marine Corps. It is a way of life for the American farmer.

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