Once a tree is severely infected with huanglongbing, it will experience premature and excessive fruit drop. ( Photo courtesy Citrus Pest & Disease Prevention Program )

The U.S. citrus industry continues to cope with citrus greening disease.

Also known as Huanglongbing — or HLB — the disease first arrived in the U.S. in Florida in 1998 and was confirmed there in 2005, according to the University of Florida.

Since then, it also has turned up in other citrus-growing states, including Texas and California.

By the time symptoms of the disease began showing up in Florida, HLB had made major advances and eventually wiped out much of the Sunshine State’s citrus crop.

Although it has appeared in growing areas throughout Texas since it was first detected there in 2012, Dale Murden, president of Mission-based Texas Citrus Mutual, said it has not had much of an impact on the state’s citrus volume.

“We have not yet experienced a decline in either quality or tons,” he said.

Texas growers learned from their counterparts in Florida that one of the best things they can do to keep the disease from running rampant is to keep an eye out for the Asian citrus psyllid, vector for the disease, and try to keep their trees healthy.

“We’re keeping our psyllid populations as low as possible through coordinated sprays and dormant sprays,” he said.

That process hasn’t been cheap.

Implementing psyllid control programs has doubled the cost of tree care, he said.

About 70% of the state’s citrus is grapefruit, Murden said. That’s good, because grapefruit seems to hold up against the disease better than other kinds of citrus.

Although the psyllid and the disease have been detected in California, so far HLB has not been found in the commercial growing areas in the central part of the state.

Huanglongbing has been spotted in backyard trees in several counties in Southern California, including recently in Riverside County, not far from some commercial groves.

Keith Wilson, sales manager for Cecelia Packing Corp., Orange Cove, Calif., said he is concerned about the number of backyard citrus trees and the many commercial properties that use citrus trees for landscaping.

“Anytime you have a host like that that’s not being sprayed and so forth, that’s a concern,” he said.

Protocols are in place for harvesting, transporting and packing citrus, he said.

For example, when fruit is harvested, it is covered by a tarp when it is brought in from the field in a truck, and it is closely inspected, he said.

“There’s a real active movement to make sure that we’re not transporting the (psyllid),” he said. “You just want to be vigilant.”

In Florida, the disease has had an impact on the entire citrus industry, said Doug Feek, owner of DLF International in Fort Pierce.

“It hurt everybody,” he said.

The first sign of citrus greening is a decline in quality, he said.

“Then production goes down.”

The good news is that citrus production in Florida is on its way back up, he said, “and the quality is pretty close to as good as it’s ever been.”

It took some time to work through HLB, but Florida “is on the other side now” and is starting to makes a comeback, he said.

The key to surviving HLB is to get rid of infected trees, do hands-on caretaking, monitor trees’ nutritional needs, apply the right sprays and implement liquid fertilizer programs with lots of micronutrients, he said.

“You’ve really got to pay attention to your trees,” he said.

There’s no single solution that applies in every case, since soil, root stock and citrus varieties can vary from grower to grower.

“What works on one person’s grove may not work on a grove down the street,” Feek said.

Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc., Oviedo, Fla., is one the few companies that have been replanting, even though citrus greening still is present throughout Florida, said Alberto Cuellar, vice president of global business.

The most recent plantings were completed early last year, he said, and should start coming into production over the next couple of years.

“Duda continues to reinvest in the Florida citrus industry with new varieties and root stocks that help fight against our current disease pressure,” Cuellar said.

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