Citrus industry enlists homeowners in pest fight

11/11/2011 09:12:00 AM
Kerry Tucker and Ted Batkin

Kerry Tucker, Nuffer, Smith, Tucker Inc.Long before the Asian citrus psyllid made its way to California, the citrus industry was moving to protect California citrus trees from this pest and the disease it can carry — huanglongbing, or citrus greening disease.

It ravaged Florida’s citrus industry and continues to be a problem, averaging up to a 15% reduction in trees annually. We don’t intend to let this happen in California.

Realizing the pivotal role of homeowners and their resistance to treating pests in the past, a public outreach plan was designed to create an environment of cooperation whereby homeowners would be willing to inspect their citrus trees and allow state and local agriculture officials to inspect and, if needed, treat their trees.

You can’t underestimate the importance of engaging consumers on issues important to agriculture and eliciting their support. 

If they’re against you, the game changes dramatically.

The challenge is finding a positioning strategy and message platform that resonates and fuels support from consumers.

Ted Batkin, Citrus Research BoardAnecdotally, we found that grandmother’s lemon tree is not just a tree, but is also a part of what makes California California, particularly in Southern California with its citrus heritage.

To dig deeper, we conducted qualitative consumer research to identify emotional drivers likely to resonate and fuel supportive behavior.

While we expected to find little or no awareness of the pest or disease at the time, consumers quickly grasped the danger to their own citrus trees and seemed willing (with guidance) to inspect or have their trees inspected by others.

Prevention was also important to them.

After identifying the emotional drivers, a positioning and messaging strategy was developed, which centered around the notion that the psyllid and the disease is a potential “death sentence” for California citrus — one that could be stopped with help from homeowners.

The positioning and messaging was rooted firmly in the research, and became the driver of all communication strategies and tactics.

We are in our third year of public outreach with a focus on homeowners and public officials in infested areas, retail nurseries and big-box outlets, master gardeners, and traditional and social media.

Through a combination of broad-reaching tactics and hyperlocal activities in the communities in which the psyllid has been found, the message is making its way to homeowners.

Recent media tours where we sat down with journalists across the state reached an audience of more than 1.3 million. A public service announcement reached 31 million, and radio and traffic spots are being aired throughout the Southern California region, reaching another 8.4 million.


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Peter McClure    
Vero Beach, FL  |  November, 14, 2011 at 10:42 AM

The disease the Asian psyllid spreads is Huanglongbing (HLB). If you live in California and enjoy your citrus, you must kill the Asian psyllid which spreads HLB. Otherwise, you will lose millions of trees to HLB like we have in Florida. It is horrible! Also, properly funding HLB/psyllid research and development is critical. Florida growers are spending $16 million per year of their own money to fund this R&D effort. California growers should drastically increase their investment in HLB R&D if they want to maintain their industry. You can not believe how devastating this HLB scourge is, and I assure you it is already in California! Don't wait until it's too late like all other citrus growers in the world have. You have done a lot already, but it is not enough. You don't get a second chance to do this right! This advice comes free of charge from a Sad Florida Citrus Grower.

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