Citrus states battle against greening pests

10/11/2012 08:17:00 AM
Don Schrack

MIchael Rogers, University of Florida associate professorDon SchrackMichael Rogers, University of Florida associate professor at the Citrus Research and Education Center, Lake Alfred, talks about Florida's programs to kill Asian citrus psyllids, which can carry citrus greening disease. PORTERVILLE, Calif. — Four years after an Asian citrus psyllid infestation was discovered near San Diego, the California citrus industry continues to keep the disease-carrying pest at bay.

Efforts against the psyllids in Florida and Texas, are also gaining momentum, according to presentations at the 2012 California Citrus Conference Oct. 10, which was sponsored by the Visalia-based Citrus Research Board.

“We are so far ahead of other places in the world that have this (psyllid) problem,” said Nick Hill, chairman of the California Citrus Pest and Disease Prevention Committee and managing partner of Green Leaf Farms Inc., Kingsburg. “The idea is to save our citrus industry, to save back yard citrus trees and to have this industry around for your children and their children.”

Psyllids can carry huanglongbing, the bacterial disease that destroyed more than 200,000 acres of citrus groves in Florida. The disease, also known as HLB, was detected in Texas for the first time in December.

Texas lessons

“California can learn from Texas what not to do,” said Mamoudou Setamou, associate professor for Texas A&M University, based at the Kingsville Citrus Center, Weslaco.

Psyllids were discovered in Texas in 2001, but the state’s citrus industry did not proactively fight the pest until 2006, Setamou said. Much has changed in Texas in recent years, and the psyllid population is slowly diminishing in commercial groves. The Texas Department of Agriculture established a nursery committee to ensure nursery stock is psyllid-free.

“Most, if not all nurseries, are still open-field operations,” Setamou said.

By Sept. 30, 2013, all nurseries with citrus stock will have to be enclosed.

Florida’s programs

In Florida. Nearly 40 Citrus Health Management Areas covering 480,000 (more than 85% of the total) citrus acres have been created, said Michael Rogers, University of Florida associate professor stationed at the Citrus Research and Education Center, Lake Alfred.

The free program is grower-driven and voluntary, he said. Growers coordinate psyllid control efforts, including pesticide use, to help manage infestations. A companion program, a joint effort of the state and federal departments of agriculture, uses scouts to check more than 100,000 acres of citrus every three weeks, Rogers said. The year-old programs are chalking up impressive records, and results are posted at www.flchma.org.


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