“Our goal is to try to prevent infections, at the very least, in the first couple of years,” Sherrod says. Ideally, the infection will be prevented beyond that time.”
Stansly already has improved the technology involved in laying the mulch.
In early tests, the mulch was laid flat.
“That’s really not a good idea because you get a kind of depression in the middle of it, and it accumulates dirt and becomes less effective,” he says.
He suggests raising the bed a few inches and allowing it to be crowned, creating a slope to allow water to roll off.
The mulch currently is being put down by equipment that was designed for use with vegetables in a 3-foot swath. But Stansly learned that the wider the mulch bed is, the more effective it is.
“We need to modify the equipment so we could have maybe a 6-foot bed,” he says.
The jury still is out on whether the process will be economically viable.
“There is a cost involved, and there are benefits,” he says. “All those costs and benefits need to be accounted for in a quantitative way before growers jump in feet first,” he says.
The mulch itself costs about $300 per acre, depending on what kind of spacing is used.
Stansly recommends using mulch that is stronger than the kind used for vegetables – at least 3 mil with a clear coating on top so that it can protect the aluminized layer.
The program requires drip irrigation, and growers need to provide freeze control, which requires a dual system that includes a microjet sprinkler. That will add $200 to the cost.
Stansly emphasized that the reflective mulch is not a standalone solution.
“When you use it together with insecticidal control, you get much better control of the insects,” he says.
The process can slow the spread of the disease at a critical time in the life of a tree when it is very susceptible to greening while at the same time accelerating its growth, he says.
“We feel that the first two or three years are critical,” Stansly says. “If we can bring it into production a year earlier than otherwise, it would be well worth it.”