The Sunshine State has always been about citrus, and with the dark cloud of HLB— citrus greening— hanging over the industry for the last 10 years, it will surely be a main topic of conversations and presentations alike at the 2016 Florida Citrus Show. Held on January 27th through the 28th in Fort Pierce, Florida, the show narrowly focused on citrus greening and other issues affecting the citrus industry.
Expert Advice for Alternative Farming
Florida’s farmers, growers, and ranchers increasingly are changing up and adding to the mix of the crops they produce, the livestock they raise and the forage they provide. Some call it agricultural diversification. Some call it alternative farming. Many call it smart business.
It’s rare today to read an article or column about Florida citrus without seeing a reference to citrus greening (Huanglongbing, or HLB), the tree disease that has seriously compromised citrus production all across the state since it was first found in Florida, near Homestead, in August 2005.
Solutions are slim.
Crop numbers are down.
Growers are fed up.
Yet amidst all of the negativity associated with citrus greening, the industry is holding strong – perhaps more united than ever.
As citrus greening continues to compromise the production of Florida’s signature citrus crop, industry leaders and supporters continue to strengthen forces, endeavoring to battle and beat this incredibly invasive, seemingly insurmountable problem.
In late January 2014, a strong collective of growers, packers, and other industry stakeholders gathered at the Florida Citrus Show eager to talk solutions.
Ideas were tossed around including:
- Replanting. A tree replant program is being pushed to counter the dwindling tree supply as a result of heavy grove clearing campaigns.
- Antimicrobial research. Additional research is required to enhance delivery systems, develop a time-release formula, and to potentially find more HLB-fighting molecules. Greater pressure must be placed on Citrus Research and Development Foundation members for more research on the use of antimicrobials.
Glimmers of hope surfaced including:
- Disease-resistant rootstocks. Promising disease-resistant sour orange and sour-like rootstocks are in their initial phases.
- Antimicrobial treatment of HLB. Quite a few molecules have successfully killed Liberibacter in the greenhouse. Future testing (about a year away) will experiment with field application.
- RNAi treatments. These treatments may disrupt Asian citrus psyllids via a non-transgenic approach.
But still, no one knows when a cure is coming.
Patience is waning, but fighting attempts are not.
The industry continues to forge ahead, more determined than ever to nix HLB from the groves for good.
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Strategies to Reduce Citrus Greening
Scientists are relentlessly working to curb the continued proliferation of HLB, otherwise known as “citrus greening.” Solutions are slim and the research is moving incredibly slow; however, some findings have offered citrus growers hope amidst the growing HLB devastation, including:
- Taking a greenhouse approach. Scientists have discovered that heating potted citrus seedlings in greenhouses will kill the HLB bacterium and may rid the seedlings of HLB symptoms for up to two years.
- Putting tents in the groves. Scientists have discovered that heating HLB-infected trees in the sun by encasing them in solar, plastic “tents” can extend their productivity and resistance to HLB.
- Growing a wider citrus selection. Adding variety has proven effective. Selections explored fall into the orange-like category, including orange hybrids (with complex lineage) that demonstrate varying degrees of obvious (or possible) resistance to HLB. These selections are incredibly close to the appearance of a typical orange and, in most cases, also taste and smell similar to an orange.
- Controlling psyllids. Having a zero tolerance policy for psyllids in the grove is key. Regular ground applications, aerial applications, and perimeter sprays around the groves can be an effective approach in keeping psyllids at bay.
- Protecting young trees. Growers that use neonicotinoids on younger trees have greatly mitigated the risk of HLB.
These results, though promising, are not a cure-all for HLB. The hope is that continued research evaluation, combined with collaborative efforts and research funding, will eventually shed light on a more concrete approach in battling deadly citrus greening.
Before this solution surfaces, however, citrus growers can expect to see a drop in production for 2013-2014, due in part to HLB and other environmental factors (hurricanes, freezes, etc.). So, while huge efforts have been made to control HLB, it is clearly not enough. Scientists and growers most come together, sharing strategies and research, to win the war on HLB.
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