Heavy September rains kept farmers from spraying, but South Texas growers believe the Asian citrus psyllid and the huanglongbing disease — also known as citrus greening — they carry will remain under control this season.
On Oct. 28, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service expanded the HLB quarantine zone in Texas to include five counties.
According to APHIS, Fort Bend and Montgomery counties were added to the quarantine after positive HLB detections in plant tissue samples from nurseries in the counties.
Citrus greening hit the Rio Grande Valley in January 2012, prompting fears of Florida-like widespread infestation. Valley growers have proactively responded with well-organized and well-funded community outreach programs.
“Florida got caught behind the eight ball and we don’t feel that way,” said Dale Murden, chairman of the Texas Citrus Pest and Disease Management Corp., Mission, speaking of the devastation to Florida’s citrus crop since the disease first appeared in that state in 2005.
“We’ve got a heck of an outreach program: Education, education, education,” Murden said of the pest and disease group, a semi-governmental, grower-funded nonprofit organization that has been behind efforts to identify and remove positive trees.
Texas oranges and grapefruits have not suffered a production decline from disease, growers say.
Eleisha Ensign, executive director of TexaSweet Citrus Marketing, Mission, said $200,000 is earmarked for its public outreach campaign.
“Our No. 1 focus as a marketing organization is to test more trees and find more positive trees,” she said.
TexaSweet’s campaign includes mailing 105,000 full-color 8.5-inch by 11-inch fliers that homeowners can use to compare symptoms with their own trees. A website provides instructions on how to take tree samples.
Since TexaSweet does not have the manpower to collect samples across the community in a timely way, it has provided a hotline and drop-off locations for homeowner-taken samples and has already begun to receive drop-offs. Outreach efforts are focused on areas near commercial groves and where positive trees have been found.
“This is not an issue that has borders,” said David Krause, president of Delano, Calif.-based Paramount Citrus.
Bret Erickson, president of the Texas International Produce Association in Mission, highlighted the multifaceted approach of reaching out to growers, neighborhoods, trailer parks and commercial yards.
Erickson said that while Texas A&M is doing research on a disease-resistant variety, the industry is still at least a decade away from being able to harvest such a plant.