Retired pathologist urges 'orange revolution' for citrus industry

11/21/2013 10:07:00 AM
Vicky Boyd

Mani SkariaCourtesy Texas A&M AgriLife ExtensionFrom left) Texas A&M AgriLife Extension citrus specialist Juan Anciso, retired plant pathologist Mani Skaria and horticulturist Barbara Storz check out micro-budded citrus trees.Retired plant pathologist Mani Skaria is taking a page from Norman Borlaug's Green Revolution and wants citrus growers to embark on an Orange Revolution.

Borlaug is known for his wheat-improvement projects during the mid-20th century.

Skaria, who spent 25 years at Texas A&M University, has urged growers to switch to high-density plantings using micro-budded trees to produce fruit more quickly, according to a news release.

That way, they can stay profitable and be one step ahead of tree-killing diseases, such as citrus greening or huanglongbing.

Barbara Storz and Juan Anciso, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension horticulturist and citrus specialist in Hidalgo County, respectively, say they believe his system may help growers survive until a long-term solution to HLB is found.

The process developed by Skaria involves sour orange rootstock grown from seed in tubular containers.

When the rootstock is still small, it's micro-budded. Within two to three weeks, the bud begins to push and the tree is soon ready for transplanting.

Traditional nursery propagation involves 12 to 18 months before trees can be transplanted in a grove.

For reasons not yet known, micro-budded trees mature more quickly and produce more fruit sooner than traditionally grafted citrus trees.

The micro-budded trees are not genetically modified, either.

The trees begin bearing in three years.

“Normally, trees take five years before you can harvest fruit, and certainly not in the amount that this micro-budded, high-density grove is producing,” Storz said in the release. “That means that the length of time before growers start seeing a return on their investment is shortened. A grower could start harvesting fruit after only two years and by the third year, you’d be in business.”

Skaria also is advocating high-density plantings with more than 500 trees per acre compared to the traditional 121 to 130 trees per acre.

As part of his efforts, he founded MicroTek LLC, which is producing and planting citrus trees on land he purchased near Hargill.

The company also is building a propagation facility designed to turn out 5,000 micro-budded trees per week.

Skaria's goal is to eventually plant more than 1,000 acres of micro-budded high-density groves in the Rio Grande Valley.

He also plans to use windbreak trees, orchard sod and sniffer dogs to detect citrus greening.



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