What is in this article?:
- Ken Keck is the new President of the California Citrus Research Board.
- Ted Batkin retires as president after 20 years of service.
- Keck brings many tools to the table to fight the deadly citrus disease Huanglongbing.
Ted Batkin’s journey
Ted Batkin joined the CRB in 1993 when the company was headquartered in Valencia in Los Angeles County. The destructive 1994 Northridge earthquake basically destroyed the CRB digs. The CRB moved to Visalia.
Over his career, Batkin has worked in agricultural research. Prior to the CRB, Batkin was a vice-president with Montford Management Services in Dinuba. He managed five commodity boards covering fresh tomatoes, potatoes, celery, cantaloupe, and other melons.
Prior to joining the CRB, Batkin developed a sales and marketing program for specialty crops.
As Batkin reflected on his two-decade CRB tenure, he outlined three major “lightning rod” pest and disease threats the CRB had faced.
The first lightning rod issue when Batkin joined the CRB was the exotic Mediterranean fruit fly, or medfly. The adult medfly lays eggs under the fruit skin. Larvae grow inside the citrus making the fruit unmarketable.
In the early 1980s, medflies destroyed millions of dollars worth of crops across California, including citrus, with billions more at stake. During his first term as the state’s chief executive, Gov. Jerry Brown authorized controversial airborne sprays, plus the release of sterile male medflies which eventually eradicated the pest.
During the outbreak, foreign buyers from China, Japan, Korea, and other countries threatened to halt imports of California citrus if a medfly solution was not found.
“The potential loss of export markets was a huge economic challenge for California agriculture,” Batkin said.
The CRB and other groups also fought off other exotic-type fruit flies, including the Mexican, oriental, melon, and peach fruit flies. For citrus, the battle for fruit fly control was critical since about 40 percent of California citrus was exported and still is today.
“The CRB worked hard on fruit fly research, and helped lead technical and scientific studies to establish and improve new sterile insect techniques (SIT),” Batkin explained.
“Today we have a continuous SIT program in Southern California which has helped keep the entire state out of harm’s way from quarantine threats. We convinced our trading partners that the fruit flies were under control. We successfully maintained our export markets.”
The second ‘lightning rod’ of Batkin’s career was citrus tristeza virus (CTV) which first entered California in the 1960s. CTV causes tree decline, stem pitting, and seedling yellows. Severe strains can kill citrus trees, primarily those on sour orange rootstock.
“We had a tristeza eradication program which was scientifically controversial,” Batkin told Western Farm Press.
The CRB helped identify and clarify the science to battle tristeza, and guided the industry to make key decisions on whether eradication was necessary or a feasible option.
Instrumental in the CTV fight were resistant rootstocks which provided growers a critical edge to for virus control.
“The science took the pressure off growers’ fear of losing a high-producing grove to eradication and tree removal due to tristeza,” Batkin said.