California Citrus Mutual wants to see the state’s share of $20 million to fight citrus greening disease forthcoming under a federal budget deal spent on stalled research projects, such as finding lures to trap the pests that cause it.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and several Republican congressmen unveiled the deal in mid-January. Joel Nelsen, president of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, fielded media and grower questions about the funding at a Jan. 23 news conference in Visalia, Calif.
“The lure for the Asian citrus psyllid is on the precipice of completion for lemons,” Nelsen said afterward. “If we can finish that project rapidly and get the regulatory process to allow it to be sold, then we’re going.”
“One of our priorities is to find lures before the psyllid suddenly explodes in population,” he said. “Texas and Florida didn’t know they had a bad bug until it was too late. We can learn from that.”
In October, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed $5 million in citrus greening funding for biological control of the Asian citrus psyllid in the Los Angeles area. That project could come off the shelf.
“The biocontrol facility in Southern California has an agent that really works, we just can’t produce sufficient numbers of it,” Nelsen said. “Let’s use some federal dollars instead and move it along to completion.”
Other research in the pipeline includes a project that, if successful, may allow modification of the pH factor in soil. As it’s absorbed into the trees, the hypothesis goes, they may become naturally repellant to the psyllid.
“We haven’t been able to do trials because we didn’t have the financial resources,” Nelsen said.
It’s unclear yet how much of the $20 million will go to California. Much of the research is likely to happen in Florida and Texas, where HLB has already spread. So far, California has had scattered psyllid finds but just a single tree with HLB — in a residential neighborhood.
On Feb. 12 in Washington, D.C., leaders of citrus trade associations from California, Florida and Texas plan to meet with Mary Palm, leader of the HLB multiagency coordinating group at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The trade groups will also host a Taste of Sunshine reception on Capitol Hill.
“We’ll offer her thoughts on how to streamline the efforts,” Nelsen said. “We’re going to pursue projects that can be completed in next year or two with good potential to help the California citrus industry.”