Texas wants everyone to get into the fight against greening

11/13/2013 04:03:00 PM
Jim Offner

In Texas, the fight against citrus greening starts at home.

Indeed, the Rio Grande Valley’s citrus industry is focused on raising awareness among area residents about the threat citrus greening poses.

So serious is the danger that the board of Mission-based TexaSweet Citrus Marketing Inc. — which was launched to promote sales of citrus products from the area — voted in October to implement a communication plan that educates homeowners and small growers about greening and how to deal with it, said Ray Prewett, president of Mission-based Texas Citrus Mutual.

“Greening is our most serious disease problem, and fighting it has to include dooryard trees,” Prewett said.

TexaSweet board members were unanimous in backing the organization’s change in focus, said Eleisha Ensign, executive director.

The change in emphasis followed months of discussions, Ensign said.

“I believe that the TexaSweet board felt that citrus greening disease is an extreme threat to the industry and that TexaSweet’s promotional funding would be better placed trying to save our industry,” she said.

The ubiquity of citrus trees on private residential lots qualifies greening as a community concern, Ensign said.

“There are a great many dooryard citrus trees, and we need every resident in the Rio Grande Valley to be aware of this situation and understand what they can do to help the industry fight this battle,” Ensign said.

It’s one battlefront in the fight against greening.

The Texas Department of Agriculture is involved too, and recently enacted a second quarantine in the valley after greening was found in a residential grapefruit tree in Mission.

The restrictions encompass a 5-mile radius of the positive find and restrict the movement of citrus nursery trees, said Larry Hawkins, Sacramento, Calif.-based spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has been working with Texas agriculture officials to deal with the problem.

Growers within the zone who want to harvest fruit for transport to an outside packinghouse must first treat trees with an approved insecticide and then harvest within seven days of application.

Harvest crews also must work to remove leaves, stems and other plant material before moving the bins outside the quarantine area.

The Mission discovery was the second time a greening-infected tree had been found in the region. In January 2012, the state and U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed greening in a commercial orange grove near San Juan.

The discoveries come on top of numerous psyllids from the Rio Grande Valley that have been tested and found positive for citrus greening, also known as huanglongbing.

Although the positive psyllids don’t result in regulatory action, they are a good indication that the disease is present in the area, according to the TexasCitrusGreening.org website.

Trent Bishop, a TexaSweet board member and sales manager with Mission-based Lone Star Citrus Growers, said he strongly supported the marketing group’s change in priorities.

“That’s not to say that in years to come we may not go back to the original intention of what TexaSweet was built for,” he said.

Efforts also focus on isolating any psyllids that are found, Hawkins said.

“On the research side, there hasn’t been a breakthrough, but we do have pretty good work going in terms of finding methodologies that may have promise in the future, with nursery stocks that have some resistance to the disease. I think it’s going pretty well in that regard,” he said.

Ongoing surveys have detected no other outbreaks, Hawkins said.

“We continue to look throughout the state in terms of surveying to find any other outbreaks, and it hasn’t found any new detections,” he said.

Worries about greening are widespread across the region, although Texas’ problems with the disease pale in comparison to Florida, Hawkins said.

“It’s been found in every citrus-producing county there,” he said.

Hopes are high that the problem eventually will be eradicated, Hawkins said.

“I think they’re doing all the right things and everything they can,” he said.

Jeffrey Arnold, salesman with the Edinburg, Texas-based Edinburg Citrus Association, said his organization is doing all it can to fight citrus greening, with regular spraying and monitoring.

“We remain cautiously optimistic, and are fortunate to have the (Texas Citrus Mutual) in direct communication with Florida in order to take advantage of catching this early enough to minimize the spread of greening,” Arnold said.



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