Disease, economy worry citrus industry

01/22/2010 12:25:00 PM
Bob Luder

There are no such answers right now about how to fully rid orange groves of the Asian psyllid, which carries the bacteria that cause huanglongbing — or citrus greening — a disease that causes trees to produce bitter and misshapen fruit.

And it’s not just a Florida problem anymore. While that state has dealt with the problem longer and felt its effects more severely, Asian psyllids have been detected in Texas, Arizona and California as well.

Greening, however, has yet to be discovered in citrus groves in those states.

“It’s definitely a concern,” Faysak said. “Parts of Yuma and Coachella (Calif.) have been quarantined from shipping to Asia. It’s more than likely just a matter of time (before psyllids and greening arrive). There doesn’t seem to be any way of getting rid of it.”

Not that folks aren’t trying. Growers are spraying groves in an attempt to keep the psyllids at bay.

Engineers and researchers are trying everything from biological engineering to keep psyllids from reproducing to creating new tree stock that’s resistant to greening and citrus canker, which also is out there and difficult to control.

“(State and federal governments) just approved additional funding for research,” said Mark Hanks, vice president of sales and marketing at DNE World Fruit Sales, Fort Pierce, Fla. “They’re doing a lot of spraying.”

John McClung, president of the Texas Produce Association, Mission, said he believed much of the citrus disease issue was a federal issue.

“Funding from (the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) to fight greening and canker has been quite satisfactory,” he said. “There’s been a significant effort in Texas and California to do survey work to find where psyllids are and the eradication of bacteria. Long-term, it’s the biggest concern in the industry. But there’s a sizeable effort under way.”

Smith shared the concern.

“It could devastate the industry. State and federal governments are working with everybody in preventative measures and research,” she said.

Eastern Editor Doug Ohlemeier contributed to this report.


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