HLB Advice For California Citrus Growers

Bobby Barben of Barben Fruit Co. in his grove

Editor’s Note: This Q&A is the fifth in series of six with the 2013 Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Award winner Bobby Barben. The Avon Park-based grower also serves as the chairman of the Research Management Committee of the Citrus Research and Development Foundation (CRDF).

Q: What advice would you give California growers and its citrus industry about dealing with HLB and its vector?

A: The first thing I would tell them is try to learn from Florida as well as Brazil. I think they are in a certain state of denial just like we were in denial. We as Florida citrus growers were full of reasons why this disease was going to be worse in Brazil than in Florida, then we in Central Florida thought the disease wasn’t going to be as bad here as it was in South Florida. We were all wrong. When I first went to Brazil, they were spraying 10 times a year as well as rouging infected trees. The rouging didn’t work in the small groves of Florida, but the spraying does.

The Florida Citrus Research and Development Foundation met with the California Citrus Research Board recently, and we spent two days getting to know each other and trying to understand each others’ problems. Hopefully, going forward, we can share some research expenses as well as research. When I told them how much many of the growers in Florida were spraying, they looked at me the same way I looked at Brazilian growers seven years ago. Don’t I wish I could dial the clock back and pay more attention to what was successful in Brazil.

With California’s lack of rainfall, their trees may flush less than ours and their problem may spread slower than ours. However, they have a huge problem with dooryard trees. They say that every home has a citrus tree in its back yard. If that’s the case, I don’t have any idea how they would keep the infection contained. I think their problems will probably be similar to ours. They seem to have a real aversion to spraying insecticides, which I think they are going to need to get past until they understand the extent of their problem or a better solution is identified.

Q: There is so much attention paid to HLB, but what other pests and diseases should we be thinking about?

A: We need to keep working on canker. Dr. Jim Graham (UF/IFAS) tells me we were lucky that the rains started after the oranges were through their most vulnerable period, but I see more canker fruit on the ground than I would like to see. Some of the research we are doing on HLB may have a crossover with canker. We definitely need to find a non-copper material for canker suppression. I don’t think we can indefinitely spray copper without having an adverse effect on our trees.

We are working on black spot. It doesn’t seem to be spreading too swiftly but it is a problem for those that have it and who knows what the future will be for black spot. Why not work on citrus variegated chlorosis and at least understand what we might have to deal with in the future? It seems we eventually get the diseases that Brazil has so I would think that list would be a good starting point.

In our groves, we are seeing an outbreak of Asian tramp snails. We don’t know what economic significance they might have, but we are trying to cure the problem before it gets worse. It’s going to take constant vigilance on our part.

Special thanks to Chemtura AgroSolutions for sponsoring the Citrus Achievement Award.

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