Efforts continue in the race against the spread of citrus greening in Texas.
Lawrence Hawkins, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, says numerous people are hard at work to fight the disease.
“Industry, academia and government are all working to identify solutions to citrus pest and disease problems through best growing practices, disease resistant cultivars, and efficacious treatments,” he said in an e-mail.
According to Hawkins, no detections of citrus greening have been confirmed in Texas beyond the original 5-mile survey area since the original detection.
Still, there’s no time to waste in the battle, and the USDA has several active platforms in place to reach out to the public for help.
The USDA has turned to technology to help fight the disease with the website, www.saveourcitrus.org, as well as communicating with social media.
“We use Facebook, Twitter, blogging, etc., to get our message on how to “Save Our Citrus” to producers, consumers and sellers alike,” Hawkins said in an e-mail.
The colorfully designed website has information about infected areas, how to detect the disease, and instructions for preventing its further spread.
Visitors to the site are also prompted with how to report a potential infected tree by submitting a form online, calling the USDA state plant health director’s office, or by downloading the Save Our Citrus iPhone application.
The free app was developed by the USDA to make it easier to identify the four leading citrus diseases, including citrus greening, according to the USDA Save Our Citrus app Web page.
Users can report symptoms, upload a photo and receive a response from citrus experts.
The USDA even uploaded an instructional video on YouTube that explains how to use the application to report a citrus greening concern for review.
Hawkins says the application has not only increased the USDA’s interaction through social media tools to help promote the right against greening, but it has greatly increased the amount of reports received.
“While the website always had the reporting capability, that function has been dramatically improved and the iPhone application provided an even easier way for a person to send a disease report with an accompanying photo,” he said in an e-mail.
Another aspect of the Web page is the “Don’t risk citrus. Don’t move citrus.” video and radio ads. These ads feature a pinball theme to explain that moving citrus can be a deadly game.
Hawkins says the animated video helps make the message more relevant nationwide, as video from a farm in Florida might not be as relevant to consumers or growers in Texas.
“The animation gave us the opportunity to tell the simple ‘Don’t Move Citrus’ story in a familiar context that was universally appealing regardless of geography,” he said.
He also mentioned that the development of the video allowed for the use of color, movement, and a voiceover in multiple languages, which saved time and money for the department.
Hawkins said one of the most important things that can be done is to educate consumers that citrus is still safe to eat.
“It is very important that with all the buzz about citrus disease, retailers continue to promote the fact that citrus is safe to eat, nutritious, and a staple of the American diet,” he said.
“People can’t get these citrus diseases,” he said, referencing that consumers can be concerned that the diseases could affect the safety of the product, so retailers need to reassure them.
In regards to safe handling practices, he said that retailers can market citrus as usual.
“Retailers of citrus fruit can continue to market product normally since regulations dictate handling procedures that ensure the fruit cannot spread the disease,” Hawkins said.
However, he also warned that consumers, as well as Internet retailers, of nursery stock should take special care to buy and sell citrus that complies with USDA regulations.