The citrus industry is gearing up for its next planning meeting in the battle against the Asian citrus psyllid and huanglongbing, the terminal disease that has wiped out tens of thousands of citrus trees in Florida and in other countries.

Representatives of a coalition led by Belize, Mexico and the U.S. plan to meet Nov. 18 in McAllen, Texas, to further develop a plan from the coalition’s first meeting in Monterey, Mexico, Sept. 22-23, said Jim Cranney, president of the California Citrus Quality Council, Auburn.

“Finding the concrete areas on which we can work together is going to be the challenge of this meeting,” he said.

Citrus greening task force to meet in Texas

Courtesy California Citrus Quality Council

Jim Cranney (from left), president of the California Citrus Quality Council, Ausencio Mata, president of the Mexican Citrus Council, and Javier Trujillo, plant health general director of SENASICA, which oversees phytosanitary and food-safety issues in Mexico, helped organize a coalition to eradicate huanglongbing, also known as citrus greening disease.

The advantage of cooperating coalition members is evidenced by how well the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and its Mexican counterpart are keeping psyllids under control in and around Tijuana, where the pest was first found on the Pacific Coast in June 2008, Cranney said.
 
The collaborative effort was expanded at the Mexico meeting to include members of the San Salvador, El Salvador-based International Regional organization for Plant and Animal Health: Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panama. The coalition plans to meet every other month.

“Just the fact that we’re able to communicate and know what everyone’s doing — and the scientists who are doing it — has been a big help,” Cranney said.

Among the items on the McAllen agenda, Cranney said, is using biological controls, which could be predatory insects, fungi or bacteria.

“Having some form other than chemicals of eradicating the pest is going to be really important, and it would save money for everyone,” Cranney said.

Chris Godfrey, a researcher with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, is already conducting tests on a small wasp that feeds on the Asian citrus psyllid, he said.

Researchers also are attempting to determine whether the wasp, or a close relative, is indigenous to California, said Jay Van Rein, a spokesman for the state agency.

“If the wasp has to be artificially introduced, then we must first conduct studies to make certain the wasp does not become a problem pest itself,” he said.

California agricultural officials believe eradicating the psyllid will be a long-term project, Van Rein said. The combination of chemicals and biological controls may be used more freely and at lower cost, he said.

An integrated pest management approach would give the California industry another tool to fight the psyllid and the disease, also known as HLB and citrus greening, Cranney said.

Psyllid infestations have been found in four Southern California counties, but none has been found near commercial citrus groves. Mexican government officials revealed earlier this year that the psyllid is in all of the country’s citrus growing states, which may prove to be an advantage for the California citrus industry.

“We might be able to do research in Mexico, such as testing techniques for controlling the psyllid, because the climate is similar to what we have in California,” Cranney said. “Until now, we’ve been working off data from Florida, which has a much different climate.”

On the two days before the coalition’s meeting, Texas A&M University and Texas Citrus Mutual sponsor the Citrus Greening Conference in McAllen, Cranney said. Members of the conference include scientists from the U.S. and other countries where the psyllid and HLB are present. The conference will meet for the first time since December 2008.

“So, after nearly a year it will be a great opportunity to hear what kind of progress has been made with the research,” Cranney said. “HLB is like a wildfire with unlimited fuel, and all of our respective countries have to be prepared for when the wind starts blowing in our direction.”