Fight against HLB continues

UF/IFAS Communications
The search for a solution to the huanglongbing — or HLB — crisis continues at the federal, state and local levels, but growers in Florida say citrus production is on the rise once again, and neither California nor Texas producers have reported a drop in citrus volume due to HLB, known as citrus greening.

The recently passed 2018 farm bill signed by President Donald Trump on Dec. 20 allocates $125 million for HLB research over a five-year period.

Florida has been hardest hit by citrus greening, a disease that attacks citrus trees and is spread by the Asian citrus psyllid.

“It’s pretty much assumed if you have a tree that’s over 3 years old, that it has the disease,” said Andrew Meadows, director of communications for Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual.

“The good news is that we have techniques that help us live with the disease,” he said.

Nutrition programs have been implemented that help growers determine the optimum pH level for irrigation water, he said.
“That helps the root health of the trees.”

Scientists also have developed root stocks that are tolerant to the disease.

“We haven’t found the resistant root stock yet, but we‘ve found several that are hardier than others when faced with greening,” Meadows said.

In California, instances of HLB so far have been limited to Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties, which are not major commercial citrus production areas, said Joel Nelsen, president of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.

“We’re pulling trees as rapidly as we can discover the disease,” he said.

Voluntary tree removal programs are underway in quarantine areas in residential neighborhoods whereby trees will removed free of charge, Nelsen said.

Presence of the psyllids continues to be “quite bold” in Riverside and Ventura counties, he said, but the number of detections in the San Joaquin Valley, where commercial citrus groves are located, is down.

There has been a psyllid detection in the Monterey County area, however, which Nelsen termed “unfortunate.”

Citrus greening has been detected in most commercial citrus-growing areas of Texas, but the industry there remains strong, said Dale Murden, president of Mission-based Texas Citrus Mutual.

“We haven’t seen a production decline yet,” he said. 

“We’ve been able to keep our head above water and have not lost production like they have in Florida — so far.”

Texas citrus growers are doing “basically what Florida taught us,” Murden said.

That is, they are trying to suppress the psyllid population as much as possible.

There has been strong participation in dormant spray programs throughout the year, he said, and growers have implemented tree health and fertilization programs used by counterparts in Florida.

“We are a fresh-fruit growing region, not a juice-fruit growing region, so we’re in the groves spraying anyway,” he said.
Citrus acreage and plantings are increasing in Texas, he said, adding that the state now has about 30,000 acres of citrus.

A recent economic impact study showed that the citrus contributes about $460 million to the state’s economy, he said. 

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