Opinion: Growers Eager For HLB Breakthrough

Frank Giles

If you’ve read this month’s cover story, you quickly capture the recurring theme of the search for a game changer. Nearly eight years since the discovery of HLB in Florida, growers are more eager than ever for a breakthrough that will give them hope there’s light at the end of the tunnel — preferably not an oncoming train.

I believe this season’s fruit drop renewed the sense of unease in growers’ minds regarding the pace of this disease’s spread across Florida’s citrus country. All along, growers have put a strong face forward and the majority still is hopeful solutions will be found. But, even the most optimistic personality sometime question whether or not we are on a quixotic quest in this battle. The worst fruit drop since 1969 can have that effect.

When I was interviewing this year’s Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Award winner, Bobby Barben, I was struck by his honest assessment of the uncertainty that is before us when it comes to HLB. But, I got a boost of confidence when he told me he believes in his heart that a solution will be found. He calls it a “game changer.” He says it may not be just one breakthrough, but a series of things that put us on a sustainable path forward.

That is good to hear from someone that is so close to the research aimed at tackling HLB. Barben serves as the chairman of the Citrus Research and Development Foundation’s (CRDF) Research Management Committee, so he closely reviews the projects proposed to take on HLB. He says he also is impressed with the caliber of people who make up or advise the CRDF. Great minds from many different disciplines are hard at work directing dollars toward science that hopefully will lead to a viable future for our citrus industry.

Scroll through the many research projects being funded by CRDF and it drives home the scale of work being conducted right now. When I hear they are scanning HLB-infected citrus trees through little MRI machines, it tells me high science is at work on our behalf. Looking beyond the science, there are other reasons for optimism. The juice processors are stepping up to the plate to invest in the future. Coca-Cola has announced a major planting initiative and investment of $2 billion in the state’s citrus industry. That’s right — “B” for a billion.

Partnering with Cutrale Citrus Juices and Peace River Citrus Products, Coca-Cola’s investment will enable the growers to plant 25,000 acres of orange trees. In my mind, that is another good shot of confidence this industry is nowhere near ready to throw in the towel.

Perhaps a quick look back at the history of other agricultural pest and disease problems hint that a game changer is en route for HLB. Many invasive plant pests and diseases have been defeated, including the eradication of the Asian longhorned beetle in Illinois, New Jersey, and Islip, NY; numerous exotic fruit fly outbreaks in Florida, Texas, and California; the wheat disease Karnal bunt in Texas and California; plum pox virus in Pennsylvania and Michigan; the boll weevil from all 17 cotton-producing states with the exception of the Lower Rio Grande Valley; and Khapra beetle infestations in a number of states.

But, probably what gives me the most confidence in the future is this quote from Barben during our conversation: “I believe we have a chance, no matter what, because Florida citrus growers are tough. All those freezes in the 1980s, I saw growers go out and replant with their last dollar. Those were tough times too, but we survived them and came out the other end.”

Topics: ,

Leave a Reply

Citrus Stories
Sunset on Florida potato field day
Citrus
July 19, 2017
Researchers On a Mission to Find More Places for Growing Produce
Federal grant to aid exploration of food security solutions for the future. Read More
Citrus
July 19, 2017
Farm Labor Stories Making the News This Week
The agricultural labor shortage is strong enough that the consumer press is beginning to report on it regularly. Here are the stories making headlines this month. Read More
farm hacks collage
Citrus
July 19, 2017
Florida Grower Magazine is Seeking Your Farm Hacks
Life hacks are common in social media threads these days. They are those clever ideas or tricks aimed at making Read More
Rain drops on leaf
Citrus
July 14, 2017
Everglades Agricultural Area Farmers Winning at Water Quality
Annual report shows use of best management practices results in another massive reduction in phosphorus flow. Read More
Citrus
July 13, 2017
The Road is Long to Farm Bill 2018 [Opinion]
Participation in this process will be crucial to ensure your needs are understood and addressed. Read More
2015 FFVA Annual Convention crowd
Citrus
July 13, 2017
Trade Talk to Top Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association Convention Agenda
Trade issues are top of mind these days for specialty crop producers. Efforts have been underway since early this year Read More
Citrus
July 12, 2017
Shaky Florida Citrus Season Skids to a Stop
Final USDA tally confirms continuing downward trend of production in the HLB era. Read More
Smaller John Deere tractor for use in citrus screenhouse
Citrus Achievement Award
July 12, 2017
Encourage New Citrus Growth by Getting Back to Basics
2017 Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Award winner Ed Pines says producing crops under protective screen is a way to farm more and stress less. Read More
Beet-armyworms-on-a-tomato-plant
Citrus
July 12, 2017
Tomato Pests Can Be Induced to Cannibalism, New Study Shows
The University of Wisconsin's John Orrock says when beet armyworms are exposed to concentrations of methyl jasmonate, they will abandon eating tomatoes — and start eating one another. Read More
Citrus
July 12, 2017
USDA Pulls 8 Products from Approved Organic Production List
After a few months of speculation, the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service has published its Sunset 2017 final rule on approved products for organic production and handling. Read More
Drone-aided photo of Ed Pines' CUPS
Varieties & Rootstocks
July 11, 2017
Florida Citrus Growers Going Inside to Think Outside the Box
Producing fruit under protective screen is developing into a viable option for sustaining the Sunshine State’s signature crop. Read More
Carl and Dustin Grooms of Fancy Farms
Business Planning
July 11, 2017
Young Florida Farmers Ready to Take the Reins
As growers age, the next generation is stepping up and stepping into leadership roles on the farm. Read More
Dr. Martha Roberts
Citrus
July 10, 2017
Florida Reveals Its Latest Woman of the Year in Agriculture
2017 award recipient a true trailblazer and champion for the advancement of the state’s farming industry. Read More
Insect & Disease Update
July 10, 2017
Value of Bactericides Under Florida Citrus Sector’s Microscope
Preliminary results of the unique HLB management method indicate many factors left to consider. Read More
Mobile technology farming
Citrus
July 10, 2017
Practical Solutions Are Bringing Precision Agriculture Closer to Earth
Growing the budding ag-tech sector to maturity likely will require a deeper meeting of the minds between technologists and agriculturists. Read More
The Latest
Citrus
July 22, 2017
Representative from Washington Proposes …
Move broadens use of H-2A to all of agriculture to include those with multiple crops and harvests. Read More
Citrus
July 20, 2017
Atlantic Hurricane Forecast Taken Up a N…
Current conditions in the tropics warrant marked revision in potential storm season scenarios. Read More
Citrus
July 19, 2017
Researchers On a Mission to Find More Pl…
Federal grant to aid exploration of food security solutions for the future. Read More
Citrus
July 19, 2017
Farm Labor Stories Making the News This …
The agricultural labor shortage is strong enough that the consumer press is beginning to report on it regularly. Here are the stories making headlines this month. Read More
Citrus
July 19, 2017
Florida Grower Magazine is Seeking Your …
Life hacks are common in social media threads these days. They are those clever ideas or tricks aimed at making Read More
Citrus
July 14, 2017
Everglades Agricultural Area Farmers Win…
Annual report shows use of best management practices results in another massive reduction in phosphorus flow. Read More
Citrus
July 13, 2017
The Road is Long to Farm Bill 2018 [Opin…
Participation in this process will be crucial to ensure your needs are understood and addressed. Read More
Citrus
July 13, 2017
Trade Talk to Top Florida Fruit & Ve…
Trade issues are top of mind these days for specialty crop producers. Efforts have been underway since early this year Read More
Citrus
July 12, 2017
Shaky Florida Citrus Season Skids to a S…
Final USDA tally confirms continuing downward trend of production in the HLB era. Read More
Citrus
July 12, 2017
Tomato Pests Can Be Induced to Cannibali…
The University of Wisconsin's John Orrock says when beet armyworms are exposed to concentrations of methyl jasmonate, they will abandon eating tomatoes — and start eating one another. Read More
Citrus
July 12, 2017
USDA Pulls 8 Products from Approved Orga…
After a few months of speculation, the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service has published its Sunset 2017 final rule on approved products for organic production and handling. Read More
Business Planning
July 11, 2017
Young Florida Farmers Ready to Take the …
As growers age, the next generation is stepping up and stepping into leadership roles on the farm. Read More
Citrus
July 10, 2017
Florida Reveals Its Latest Woman of the …
2017 award recipient a true trailblazer and champion for the advancement of the state’s farming industry. Read More
Citrus
July 10, 2017
Practical Solutions Are Bringing Precisi…
Growing the budding ag-tech sector to maturity likely will require a deeper meeting of the minds between technologists and agriculturists. Read More
Business Planning
July 10, 2017
Farming for Online Sales Will Require Gr…
Modern agriculture might not be for everyone, but it’s here to stay. Embrace it. Read More
Citrus
July 5, 2017
Florida Struggling to Stay Afloat in Wak…
In one month’s time, parts of the Sunshine State have gone from water shortage warnings to a high-water emergencies. Read More
Citrus
July 5, 2017
Give Tech Companies the Expertise They L…
One problem with many agricultural technology start up companies is that no one on staff has a farming background. That's easy enough to fix. Volunteer your expertise. Read More
Citrus
July 5, 2017
Want Labor-Saving Harvest Equipment? Col…
Innovation and technology start with growers working with their peers and manufacturers. Read More