In 2014, the fresh produce industry continued its efforts to fight citrus greening with government and industry funding for research and education along with programs to detect and contain Asian citrus psyllids.
Federal budget boosts citrus greening funding
By Doug Ohlemeier, Eastern Editor
An additional $20 million in funding to combat citrus greening is included in the latest congressional budget proposal.
California and Florida lawmakers are lauding bipartisan efforts to secure the funding that is included in the broad budget deal supported by leaders in both chambers, according to separate news releases from the legislators.
“This isn’t everything we’ve been pushing for in the farm bill, but $20 million is a good step and will allow us to accelerate the research we’ve started,” Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said in a release.
Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla.; Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.; Devin Nunes, R-Calif.; and David Valadao, R-Calif., also helped secure the funding.
“California citrus is a $2 billion industry and creates over 20,000 jobs,” Joel Nelsen, president of the Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, said in a release.
A House Agriculture Appropriations Committee member, Rooney has helped lead the effort for additional greening research funding, according to a release.
The funding should allow the federal government to better work with states, universities and industry to control, mitigate and find a cure for greening, and is key to preserving Florida’s citrus industry and strengthening its economy, Rooney said in the release.
This is in addition to the $11 million Nelson helped secure two years ago to fund research into combating and eradicating the disease, which has infected citrus groves in Florida, California, Louisiana, Georgia and South Carolina.
Nelson continues to push for a Senate farm bill provision to create a trust fund to provide up to $30 million a year for the next five years to fight greening, according to the release.
On Jan. 23, Valadao and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service deputy administrator Osama El-Lissy plan a hearing in Visalia, Calif., to address industry questions about the multi-agency task force the USDA formed in December to coordinate HLB research, according to a release.
Citrus psyllid lure a Golden State priority
By Mike Hornick, Staff Writer
California Citrus Mutual wants to see the state’s share of $20 million to fight citrus greening disease — forthcoming under a federal budget deal — spent on stalled research projects, such as finding lures to trap the pests that cause the disease.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and several Republican congressmen unveiled the deal in mid-January. Joel Nelsen, president of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, fielded media and grower questions about the funding at a Jan. 23 news conference in Visalia, Calif.
“The lure for the Asian citrus psyllid is on the precipice of completion for lemons,” Nelsen said afterward. “If we can finish that project rapidly and get the regulatory process to allow it to be sold, then we’re going.”
“One of our priorities is to find lures before the psyllid suddenly explodes in population,” he said.
“Texas and Florida didn’t know they had a bad bug until it was too late. We can learn from that.”
In October, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed $5 million in citrus greening funding for biological control of the Asian citrus psyllid in the Los Angeles area. That project could come off the shelf.
“The biocontrol facility in Southern California has an agent that really works, we just can’t produce sufficient numbers of it,” Nelsen said.
Texas issues third quarantine for citrus greening
By Vicky Boyd, Staff Writer
The Texas Department of Agriculture has established its third citrus greening quarantine in Hidalgo County after it confirmed a tree with the bacterial disease near Donna.
The quarantine covers all citrus within a 5-mile radius of the La Blanca area between Edinburg, Texas, and Elsa, Texas, along Highway 107, according to a news release.
The move prevents citrus plant movement within or out of the quarantine zones.
Fruit can be moved, providing growers first remove all stems and plant leaves or spray a recommended insecticide before harvest.
These steps are designed to minimize the movement of Asian citrus psyllid, the insect that spreads citrus greening, out of the zones.
The other two quarantines include an area around San Juan, established in January 2012, and one around Mission, established Sept. 24.
Both are in the Rio Grande Valley.
In Florida, where the disease is entrenched, it has caused billions of dollars in losses.
Citrus greening unites USDA, Florida growers
By Tom Karst, National Editor
ARLINGTON, Va. — The citrus industry and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are uniting to defeat citrus greening, but victory against the bacterial disease that first appeared in Florida in 2005 remains years away.
A workshop at the USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum on Feb. 21 looked at citrus greening and the future of the citrus industry. Panelists said huanglongbing (citrus greening or HLB) has had a rapid and destructive effect in Florida. The disease has spread to other citrus growing regions of the country, but it has not had as devastating an effect on other areas.
While some believe the Florida citrus industry could be in peril of collapse within a few years because of HLB, researchers said finding genetically modified citrus trees immune to the disease could take a decade before commercialization.
Citrus greening was first identified Florida in August 2005, said Ed Stover, researcher with USDA Agricultural Research Service, and up to 70% of the state’s citrus trees are now infected. Within a few years of infection, many citrus trees become weak, have poor quality fruit, and heavy fruit drop, he said. Eventually infected trees may die or become useless, Stover said.
Florida’s citrus output has dropped from about 30 million field boxes in 2000 to about 15 million boxes in 2013-14, he said.
While there was optimism a few years ago that nutritional solutions could provide an answer, that optimism is slipping away, he said.
Some reports indicate up to 40% of the Florida citrus crop dropped from trees before harvest last season. Yield losses pinned on citrus greening in Florida have been pegged at $300 million annually.
Growers are spending $500 per acre to fight citrus pests, said Prakash Hebbar, national coordinator for the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s citrus health response program. Hebbar described the Citrus Health Response Program as a public-private partnership between the agency, university researchers, state departments of agriculture and industry scientists.
Panelists said the solution to citrus greening — spread by the Asian citrus psyllid — could involve either genetically modified insects or genetically modified citrus trees, researchers said, but other short- and medium-term solutions also are being pursued.
“We cannot manage or control this disease without a team effort,” said MaryLou Polek, vice president of science and technology for the Citrus Research Board, Visalia, Calif.
Chavonda Jacobs-Young, associate administrator for national programs for the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, said the farm bill authorized $25 million per year through 2018 for the Emergency Citrus Disease Research and Extension Program.
Citrus growers learn about greening measures
By Tom Burfield, Western Correspondent
VENTURA, Calif. — The Asian citrus psyllid has been the talk of the California citrus industry since the pest was detected near San Diego in 2008.
About 40 growers, pest management advisers and others got a chance to do more than talk about the psyllids May 8 during a field trip sponsored by the California Citrus Pest & Disease Prevention Program and California Department of Food and Agriculture.
Before the visit to the Orcutt Ranch Horticultural Center in Los Angeles where they got to see the psyllids close up, participants received an update on the status of the psyllid and what’s being done to combat the pest, which can spread huanglongbing, also known as citrus greening disease.
HLB already has devastated 60% of Florida’s citrus production.
Psyllids have been spotted in several California counties, but greening disease only has been detected in one tree — in 2012 in a residential area of Hacienda Heights, east of Los Angeles. The infected tree was removed and the area placed under quarantine.
Experts believe there are undetected diseased trees in urban areas, said Bob Atkins, Asian citrus psyllid statewide coordinator for CDFA.
“Now that we have the psyllid to vector (HLB) around, that’s our biggest threat,” he said.
Populations of the vectors must be kept in check, which Atkins said is his job and that of county grower liaisons, who help growers coordinate treatments to keep the pest population low.
As of late March, 46,420 square miles were quarantined as a result of psyllid finds, said Nawal Sharma, environmental program manager for CDFA’s Agriculture Plant Health and Pest Prevention Services.
Quarantine zones help relieve pressure from buyers of California citrus worldwide because strict protocols must be followed when moving citrus or citrus plant materials out of the area, he said.
The industry is funding the fight against the psyllids to the tune of $15 million per year through a grower assessment of 8 cents per box, said Victoria Hornbaker, citrus program coordinator for the Citrus Pest & Disease Prevention Program.
Limited funding also comes from other sources.
One of the biggest challenges in the fight against the psyllids is groves that no longer are maintained, said John Krist, chief executive officer of the Ventura County Farm Bureau.
The problem needs to be addressed, he said, because those groves are “potential reservoirs” of the psyllids.
Florida citrus conference deals with disease
By Doug Ohlemeier, Eastern Editor
BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. — As Florida citrus growers gathered for their 10th industry conference, a sense of optimism prevailed that research is closer to discovering how to halt the disease threatening their industry.
That optimism was tempered by reality at the June 11-13 Florida Citrus Industry Annual Conference, which also tackled other industry issues challenging growers.
“We need reasons to be optimistic,” said Mike Sparks, executive vice president and chief executive officer of conference sponsor Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual.
“We know it’s rough out there and sometimes tough to be optimistic, but things are going to get better.”
Sparks said many grower are replanting trees.
“So don’t write our obituary yet,” he said. “We have a long future ahead of us.”
The recently passed farm bill commits $25 million per year for five years for citrus greening research and represents a boost to Florida, California and Texas in combating the disease, said Harold Browning, chief operating officer of the Lake Alfred-based Citrus Research and Development Foundation Inc.
“We are funding 130 projects and are real optimistic about this process,” he said. “We have been looking at HLB since 2005. What was long-term years ago is near-term now.”
USDA funds HLB research
By Doug Ohlemeier, Eastern Editor
BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture is directing $25 million in funding for research to fight citrus greening.
On June 12, the USDA released news of the funding availability for research and cooperative extension service projects to stop citrus greening, also known as HLB and huanglongbing.
USDA authorized another $6.5 million, bringing the total to $31.5 million, for projects through the HLB multi-agency coordination group, which the industry refers to as MAC.
The USDA is calling for research that focuses on solutions for all citrus producing states, according to a news release.
During a June 12 industry luncheon at Florida Citrus Mutual’s annual conference, Edward Avalos, USDA’s undersecretary of marketing and regulatory programs, told growers they have USDA’s support.
California expands quarantine for citrus psyllid
By Mike Hornick, Staff Writer
The California Department of Food and Agriculture has added 110 square miles to a quarantine zone for Asian citrus psyllid in Tulare County.
The zone may expand again later in June after the detection of a single psyllid west of Exeter near Farmersville, according to a news release.
The size and scope of any added regulation is still being determined.
The latest expansion brings the total quarantine area in Tulare County to 856 square miles. An online map depicts the zone, which also includes Terra Bella, Lindsay, Dinuba, Orange Cove and Orosi.
Separate quarantines are in place in Fresno, Kern, Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.
California citrus leaders hope psyllid plan buys time
By Vicky Boyd, Staff Writer
MODESTO, Calif. — If the $2.4 billion California citrus industry is to survive, it must maintain Asian citrus psyllid detection and control programs to buy time until fixes for the deadly citrus disease it carries are discovered.
Representatives of the citrus industry, county agriculture commissioners, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of California delivered that message Nov. 14 to state Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture. During a 2½-hour hearing, they highlighted collaborative efforts.
In Florida and Texas, citrus greening — arrived in the state about five years after the psyllid was first detected, said Joel Nelsen, president of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.
So far, California has bucked the trend, he said. Only one tree has been found positive for greening in California, in Hacienda Heights, Los Angeles County. That tree was removed by the homeowner.
But the psyllid continues to move north, with the latest finds this fall in Santa Clara and San Joaquin counties, said Bob Wynn, senior adviser to California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross. Much of the southern part of the state from Fresno to the Mexican border remains under a citrus psyllid quarantine.
The discovery of individual psyllids in Lodi and Manteca this fall sent the San Joaquin County agriculture commissioner’s department scrambling, said commissioner Tim Pelican.
Although the county only has 9 acres of citrus, he said crews treated infested properties to protect nurseries in neighboring Stanislaus County and the entire San Joaquin Valley citrus industry.
The county hadn’t trapped for citrus psyllids during 2013 because of lack of funding. In fact, the traps that picked up the pest this season were being used for the grape pest glassywinged sharpshooter, Pelican said.
“One of the things we really need to look at is the state of California is a little bit remiss for not providing any more to any of the pest-detection programs in the state,” he said.