An important update on the fight against HLB

An important update on the fight against HLB

TWO MONTHS AGO, the topic for this column was the optimism that pervades the Florida citrus industry about an eventual victory over the citrus greening (HLB) disease.

That optimism was bolstered in late October when a group of citrus industry professionals heard a presentation by Dr. Harold W. Browning, the chief operating officer with the Citrus Research and Development Foundation, Inc. An arm of the University of Florida, the foundation has primary state oversight responsibility over HLB research and development efforts.

Dr. Browning gave an update on the “Section 18” emergency use of certain pesticides and bactericides — some not yet used on citrus — to control the Asian citrus psyllid, the insect that spreads HLB, and fight bacterial infections.

Section 18 of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to allow an unregistered use of a pesticide or bactericide for a limited time, if the agency determines that an emergency condition exists. In April 2014, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam issued a Section 18 crisis declaration for the use of the Belay insecticide to control the psyllid. In October, the Florida Citrus Commission voted to send Putnam a letter urging him to issue another Section 18 declaration for the emergency use of three bactericides to manage tree health in HLB-infected citrus.

Dr. Browning said the new Section 18 petition is under review by Putnam’s office and will be forwarded to the EPA. He said the most optimistic goal is to have the Section 18 bactericides approved in February 2016 and available for use by growers by the time the citrus blooming period begins.

Another front in the war against HLB, in addition to pesticides and anti-bacterial sprays, is in the citrus tree itself — coming up with citrus rootstock that can fend off the HLB bacterium even if the psyllid can’t be eradicated. With critical funding from the Florida and federal governments, researchers are working feverishly to develop a microbial-based product that can be combined with plant-defense inducers and beneficial bacteria strains to make citrus trees tolerant to HLB.

Citrus trees developed for HLB tolerance are in some closely watched commercial groves for testing now, and more are in the pipeline. It’s often been said that when we sit down to eat, we should thank a farmer. Given the fight we have with HLB, it might be good, too, to say a prayer for the citrus researchers in the labs and the rootstock caretakers in the nurseries.

CREDIT

column by CHARLES COUNTER

BIO: Charles Counter started in the agriculture business in 1986. He is the Director of Field Operations for the Haines City Citrus Growers Association, managing over 7,000 acres of ag land in Florida. Established in 1909, the HCCGA provides for Complete Grove Development and Management, is a Member of Florida’s Natural, and operates as Caretaker and Packer of Citrus, as well as Organic & Conventional Peaches and Blueberries. To contact Charles, call (863) 557-0510 or email charles@hilltopcitrus.com.