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.
Keck poised for HLB battle
The future of the CRB’s ACP-HLB fight is now on Keck’s watch.
Keck said, “My goal is in the transition from the esteemed experience and leader that Ted represented is to keep this organization and its bones strong now and into the future.”
Keck’s work history has prepared him for the CRB challenges ahead.
From 1999-2002, Keck worked in legislative and regulatory affairs with Florida Citrus Mutual. He spent the next four years as director of government affairs and general counsel for the Florida Department of Citrus, and as the department’s executive director and general counsel since 2006.
Keck understands Florida’s ACP-HLB experience - the good, the bad, and the ugly. He brings these talents to the California table to help the industry.
Speaking candidly, Keck said, “We (Florida citrus) were dead before the first shot was fired. We had the disease and we didn’t know it. The wealth of data from Florida and other citrus regions on HLB is information the California citrus industry can tap.”
Keck brings to California citrus another edge against ACP-HLB. He is a Florida citrus grower who grew up on his family’s citrus operation in Lake Placid.
“I know what it’s like to rely on the harvest each year to pay the bills,” Keck said.
Ken, along with his brother and sister, grow oranges for processing into juice. Their parents grew and packed grapefruit and specialty fruit.
On today’s Florida battle against ACP-HLB, Keck says growers are at a critical juncture. The goal this past growing season was to keep trees healthy enough to maintain fruit production in a HLB environment. Unfortunately, much of the fruit fell to the ground.
“The jury is out on how well we’ll weather the coming fruit-growing season,” the citrus grower said.
Florida is the nation’s largest citrus producer, followed by California. About 90 percent of the Florida crop is processed. About 75 percent of the California crop is grown for the fresh market.
Looking forward, Keck’s CRB vision is to adapt Florida’s learned experiences to help California citrus survive the ACP-HLB threat. He acknowledges that differences exist between the two states’ citrus industries so tweaking will be needed.
His advice for California and Arizona citrus growers is prevent – prevent - prevent.
“Prevent is what we didn’t do in Florida,” Keck said. “We didn’t know any better.”
Keck will also explore the adaptation of Florida’s citrus health management areas – CHMAs for short – in California. With CHMAs, growers communicate on a regular basis with citrus neighbors on the use of different pesticide modes of action used for psyllid control. This can improve pesticide efficacy and delay possible product resistance.
“Grower cooperation is the key,” Keck said.
At the CRB helm, Keck will seek peer review of proposed pest and disease research projects. In Florida, citrus ideas were evaluated through the National Academies to gain outside perspectives on research proposals before projects were ever funded.