Texas citrus growers and researchers are taking action to avoid and prevent the spread of huanglongbing.
“Texas is dealing with HLB much like our counterparts in Florida and California,” said Dale Murden, grower and president of Texas Citrus Mutual, Mission.
“Early on we learned many things from Florida, such as the need for optimum root and tree health and psyllid control.”
“Texas has been very proactive in its treatment of the HLB vector, so to date, we have suffered very little greening,” said April Flowers, marketing director of Lone Star Citrus Growers.
Dennis Holbrook, owner of Mission-based South Tex Organics, said the key to managing the spread of HLB is to control the Asian citrus psyllid.
“HLB is around, but it’s not exploding in any particular area,” Holbrook said. “We are managing as best we can at this point.”
In 2015, the Texas Citrus Pest and Disease Management Corp. was formed, Murden said.
“This entity allowed for a grower assessment and strategic planning by growers and managed by growers on how and where to best defend against the onslaught of many pest and disease issues, but primarily on the Asian citrus psyllid and HLB,” he said.
“For nearly 10 years now, local citrus growers have taken very aggressive steps and employed various mitigation methods all year long to prevent the spread of HLB,” said Dante Galeazzi, CEO and president of Texas International Produce Association, Mission.
“There’s a lot of research happening specific to this issue, and there’s several promising projects that the industry will be watching closely.”
Growers are using various methods of HLB management.
“Our field consultants are in the groves every week to 10 days looking at populations,” Holbrook said.
“The Texas Pest and Disease Management Corpo. also has scouts who are monitoring populations and helping growers see when their populations are growing and when treatments need scheduled.”
Lone Star Citrus Growers constantly tests tees, Flowers said. When diseased trees are found, they are pulled up along with surrounding trees and replaced with trees from the company’s greenhouse nursery stock.
Attract-and-kill psyllid traps are in development and showing promise, and because psyllids do not like light, reflective ground covers and natural, reflective kaolin clay seem to be helping, she said.
“The ‘dormant’ spray program, developed by our Texas A&M University Kingsville Citrus Center scientists, was deployed over the entire commercial growing region in Texas,” Murden said.
“This area wide approach has helped in keeping the ACP populations low and very key times in our growing season thus preventing further spread and decline.”
Growers hope for a cure or resistant varieties to come along, he said. There has been promising research, but trials are slow for perennial crops.
Early detection devices have been improved and could help California growers, he added.
“My counterparts at the Florida and California Citrus Mutual have banded together and we spend countless hours in Washington, with both the USDA and legislators, to ensure that both researchers and funding is available in our fight to save commercial citrus in the U.S.,” Murden said.
“I think one thing that actually gives me hope is that scientists have begun to cross state lines, so to speak, and are working together to solve this problem.”