Florida Citrus Community Goes All In Against HLB

2013 Florida Citrus Industry Conference Education session

If there is indeed strength in numbers, then the Florida citrus industry should be in good position to take on the challenges that lay ahead, most notably HLB. During last week’s Florida Citrus Industry Annual Conference in Bonita Springs, a record 700+ attendees turned out for the 9th running of the family friendly event hosted by Florida Citrus Mutual (FCM). According to Mike Sparks, FCM’s executive VP/CEO, this marks the third year in a row a new attendance benchmark has been set.

While the yearly gathering offers a selection of resort-flavored networking opportunities, the business-oriented educational session focused on planting and protecting citrus in the 21st Century. While the theme was stated as a “new paradigm” on the program sheet, girding against greening’s barrage seems hardly new anymore. The team efforts going on in research labs and in the groves are what’s making a difference in the new normal of citrus production.

Citrus health management areas (aka, CHMAs) are a prime example of working together for a singular cause – outright psyllid control. Brandon Page, UF/IFAS CHMA assistant, presented results of multiple CHMA programs around the state. “Even though there are differences [in each], there are important similarities,” he said.
According to Page, foundations of a highly functioning CHMA rely on leadership (grower involvement) as well as constant communication through scouting reports and cultural practices.

*Click here to check out the new CHMA Mapping Program*

In the high-performing CHMAs such as Bereah/South Frostproof and Volusia, grower participation is what is making an impact. For those areas needing improvement, Page said the answer is simple, “We need leaders.”

From the fields to the labs, work continues in the antimicrobial treatment front and on ultimately trying to come up with a HLB-resistant tree. Dr. Jude Grosser, UF/IFAS, informed attendees about promising leads on the horizon regarding new rootstocks, including one that compares apples and oranges. Grosser noted a breakthrough in using the right rootstock to help prevent fire blight in apples. “If it can happen in apples, then it can happen in citrus,” he said.

Studies are under way in analyzing the results of grafting infected scions onto rootstocks. Compiled data from the outcomes will lead to the next stage, Grosser said, which will be selecting rootstocks that have HLB resistance.
“Isn’t it great to see an enthusiastic scientist? His work reflects that,” exclaimed Dr. Harold Browning, chief operating officer of the Citrus Research and Development Foundation, following Grosser’s presentation.

Those in the audience agreed with Browning’s observation. Similarly, Sparks said the positive attitude has to start internally in order for others outside the industry to notice. The recent funding victories are testament to that. “The growers’ cooperative spirit and can-do attitude is what our industry was founded on. Not only does Coca-Cola have the confidence to invest, but so does the public sector to support our industry.”

A Salute To Citrus Achievement

During the Citrus Industry Annual Banquet, Florida Grower presented its annual Citrus Achievement Award sponsored by Chemtura AgroSolutions. Based on his accomplishments in leading the research charge, this year’s selection – Bobby Barben – was a popular one. Not one to seek the spotlight, Barben told a full banquet hall of professional peers and family, “I’m humbled, honored, and embarrassed to win this award.”

See below for some of the on-site Twitter exchanges from the Citrus Achievement Award presentation.

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