Citrus Research Brainpower Sets Sights On HLB

By |

Mike Sparks_FCM

In early February, Florida Citrus Mutual hosted the 2013 International Research Conference on HLB in Orlando. This was the third such gathering and we welcomed the biggest crowd yet with more than 500 people in attendance from 22 countries. To say this event hosted the best and brightest minds when it comes to finding solutions to HLB would be an understatement.

The conference truly has become the premier meeting associated with the science of HLB. I want to personally thank Dr. Tim Gottwald and his organizing committee as well as the Mutual staff, mainly Clark Baxley, who worked so hard to make it all happen.

In welcoming the group, I noted that I hope sometime in the near future we may not need to hold this event. No offense to any of the great minds in attendance last month, I would prefer not to need this meeting. After all, researchers have made great strides and I am optimistic a permanent solution can be uncovered very soon. Antibiotics, RNAi technology, biocontrols, and genomics are just some of the projects showing amazing promise. We are not to the point where we have something growers can hitch “on the back of their tractor,” but we are close.

Strong Dose Of Dollars

In addition, we are funding scientific research at unprecedented rates. The Florida citrus industry has spent more than $60 million on HLB research over the past six years. That’s quite an investment. We like to joke that if you are a citrus researcher and you don’t have funding, then you should probably be in another profession.

The funding has come from a variety of sources, but the vast majority is grower dollars. Citrus growers have put their faith in research and that means the scientists gathered in Orlando for the conference have an awesome task in front of them. Not to put any added pressure on the group, but I told them we need something yesterday.
We’ve had some success keeping HLB infected trees bearing fruit with nutritional programs, but they are showing signs of stress. I think this year’s massive fruit drop is evidence of that. It’s been a sobering season thus far.

An Aggressive Goal

I encouraged everyone in attendance to set a goal that when the international conference takes place again two years from now, we will have a session about what’s working commercially in the grove to cure HLB. Can we do that? I know that is an aggressive objective, but the situation is at a point where we have to be aggressive. The disease is not going to stop on its own. It is relentless.

We have made great headway and Florida growers are still committed to research. The scientific community has discovered many things about the psyllid and the HLB bacteria over the past six years. However, there is much work to be done. I am confident it will get done with the help of the collective brainpower that’s on the case.

Mike Sparks is the executive vice president/CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual.

Leave a Reply