The U.S. Department of Agriculture is expanding efforts to save limes. Their secret weapon: a tiny, parasitic wasp. The wasp is the natural enemy of Huanglongbing, the citrus greening disease partially responsible for the ongoing lime shortage. Huanglongbing has killed groves of trees in Florida and is now making a dent in California, where the citrus industry is worth some $2 billion.
Researchers found that Huanglongbing is spread by the Asian citrus psyllid, a tiny plant-eating insect. The psyllids are most easily killed by the Tamarixia radiate wasp, which is basically just a tiny, lime-saving insect. The USDA will spend $1.5 million to increase breeding of these wasps, and plans to release them in Califonia, Texas, and Florida. Congress has also added $125 million to a fund that will research Huanglongbing prevention over the next five years. (Congress members must really love limes.)
Since 2010, California lime farmers have already spent $15 million a year fighting the psyllid, though they have been unable to make a dent in the issue. California grows 80 percent of the U.S.'s citrus for consumption (Florida’s citrus is mostly for juice.) Now, many of these trees are quarantined due to disease.
The LA Times spoke with Mark Hoddle, a UC Riverside researcher, and he believes increasing the number of wasps will make a difference in the lime market. Unfortunately, “the process can be slow and tedious.” Hoddle said they are set to produce one million wasps a year, which will hopefully make a dent in the psyllid population, and thus save the limes from disease.
In the meantime, we will all suffer from this lime shortage, as we drink our sad, lemon-garnished Coronas.