Citrus canker, greening remain major concerns of industry

02/10/2012 11:56:00 AM
Jim Offner

There’s also a lot of research on the psyllid, the vector that causes greening, Mixon said.

“I think next year there will be opportunities for planting new varieties that will be far better and consumer-friendly than we have in the state of Florida now,” Mixon said. “You match the right root stocks with the right varieties that can fight off some of the natural diseases and pests.”

He also said the industry is making gains in spite of the disease difficulties its faces.

“We’ve had probably the best year in recorded history for maturity and flavor in the fruit,” Mixon said. “We had fruit that was ahead of maturity standards. We had an early start and thus far the product we are shipping to the customers has been well received.”

The threat posed by the spread of greening is the biggest issue Texas growers now face, said John McClung, president of the Texas Produce Association, Mission.

“The biggest single issue we’re dealing with in the citrus industry is the relentless march of greening up from Mexico,” he said. “There’s nothing you can do about greening itself. What you can do, though, is try and suppress the Asian citrus psyllid population, because they’re the vector.”

Greening could pose a particular threat to Johnston Farms, a Bakersfield, Calif.-based grower that ships mandarins that still have stems and leaves, said Dennis Johnston, partner.

“Here’s what’s going to hurt us: When it’s here and we get in the quarantine zone, we won’t be able to ship stem-and-leaf anymore, because they’re afraid that it will carry the psyllid on the stem and leaf, even though we wash them,” he said.”

So far, California has been able to keep greening out of its citrus groves, said Andrew Brown, a grower and director with the Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.

“The state of California and the industry itself have taken a very aggressive position from the lessons learned in Florida and globally, in psyllid-prevention,” Brown said.

Bob Blakely, the citrus mutual’s director of industry relations, said growers are winning the battle.

“We’re certainly having to keep up the communication effort and keeping the awareness level high, especially in the urban areas,” he said.

Research is underway to introduce natural enemies to fight the psyllid, Blakely said.

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