What is in this article?:
- It is only a matter of time until many more California trees are infected with citrus greening disease and a full-scale war breaks out to contain the spread.
- Citrus greening cost Florida growers $331 million annually from 2006 through 2011. An estimated 8,257 jobs were lost in Florida due to greening during that period.
- A solution may hinge on genetically modified citrus trees, which would be a challenge to educate consumers on due to the highly charged anti-GMO atmosphere.
The curtain is slowly parting on the Huanglongbing (HLB) citrus drama in California.
Three Asian citrus psyllids have been discovered this year in Tulare County, the heart of the San Joaquin Valley citrus belt — the third only recently. They join the cast of 43,000 similar psyllids detected in Southern California since 2008, mostly in ornamental or backyard trees. Two of the three SJV cousins, possible hitchhikers from the southland, were too beat up to evaluate if they were carrying the Huanglongbing or citrus greening disease. No word if the third carried the disease. County agricultural officials are looking at the boundaries for quarantine, which will regulate and restrict the movement of fruit and plant material.
Asian citrus psyllid injects a bacterium which causes greening that spreads when other psyllids feed on infected trees.
Only one tree so far has been confirmed infected in a Southern California backyard.
However, grower Dan Dreyer of Exeter, Calif., and most others like him agree it is only a matter of time until many more trees are infected and a full-scale war breaks out to contain the spread.
California cannot escape the disease, says Dreyer. “It will eventually get here, if it’s not here already, since we have found the psyllid.”
California growers have a pretty good idea what the future will hold because the story has featured in Florida for seven years. The psyllid and disease cost Florida growers $331 million annually from 2006 through 2011. That’s a $1.66 billion hit to the industry for five years, according to a recent study released by University of Florida agricultural economists Thomas Spreen and Alan Hodges.
Total economic impact of the disease, including indirect effects, was $4.54 billion, or $908 million annually, over those five years. An estimated 8,257 jobs were lost in Florida due to greening during that period.
California wants to win skirmishes and eventually the war by going to school on what Florida and perhaps Brazilian growers have done to save their citrus industries.
However, the general consensus is that it will take a big bazooka to end it all and that means trees resistant to the disease. This could lead to uncharted waters for a food crop like citrus. It may take a genetically modified tree to turn back perhaps the biggest threat to the U.S. citrus industry.
California producers were given a closer look at Florida through the eyes of Rick Cress, president of Southern Gardens Citrus in south Florida. Cress spoke at the California Citrus Conference at the Porterville Fairgrounds sponsored by the Citrus Research Board.