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
healthy piece of citrus
Citrus Achievement AwardNeglected Research, Future Growers Top Of Mind For 2015 Citrus Achievement Award Winner
July 1, 2015
Orie Lee advises young up-and-comers to supplement production knowledge with business acumen; calls for more focus on blight. Read More
money down the drain
CitrusGovernor’s Budget Veto Likely To Shutter UF/IFAS Invasive Pest Quarantine Lab
June 25, 2015
A $180,000 increase, plus another $720,000 in funding for program gone in the stroke of a pen. Read More
blue orchard bee
CitrusPlight Of Pollinators Presenting Sticky Situation
June 24, 2015
Growers, beekeepers, and the ag-chem industry urged to work together to protect pollinators and plants. Read More
dripping orange
CitrusFlorida Legislative Session Bittersweet For Citrus
June 23, 2015
Gov. Rick Scott OKs almost $20 million to fight HLB; vetoes nearly $4 million in other related initiatives. Read More
CitrusCalifornia High Heat Warning Issued
June 23, 2015
The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) is advising all employers to protect their outdoor workers from the Read More
Close-up of Sugar Belle LB 8-9
Varieties & RootstocksSounds Like Chime Is Right For Sugar Belle LB 8-9
June 22, 2015
Well-vetted variety is finding its sweet spot amid today’s HLB-influenced production practices. Read More
non-gmo label leafy greens
CitrusResearchers Ready To Testify Before Congress About GMOs
June 22, 2015
UF/IFAS grad students seeking to field questions relating to the GMO regulatory processes, food labeling, and product safety. Read More
The Latest
Photo of New Guinea flatworm found near Coral Gables, FL
CitrusSouth Florida’s Newest Pest Has Significant Ooze Factor
July 2, 2015
The infamous New Guinea flatworm, one of the ‘world's worst invasive alien species,’ might have found a new home. Read More
CitrusFlorida’s Young Farmers Working To Bridge Generation Ga…
July 2, 2015
Leadership conference to give GenNext Growers tools to become better agvocates. Read More
CitrusIndustry Stakeholders Rip Report Linking Citrus Consump…
July 1, 2015
Associations react swiftly; call out flaws in study released by the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Read More
money down the drain
CitrusGovernor’s Budget Veto Likely To Shutter UF/IFAS …
June 25, 2015
A $180,000 increase, plus another $720,000 in funding for program gone in the stroke of a pen. Read More
blue orchard bee
CitrusPlight Of Pollinators Presenting Sticky Situation
June 24, 2015
Growers, beekeepers, and the ag-chem industry urged to work together to protect pollinators and plants. Read More
dripping orange
CitrusFlorida Legislative Session Bittersweet For Citrus
June 23, 2015
Gov. Rick Scott OKs almost $20 million to fight HLB; vetoes nearly $4 million in other related initiatives. Read More
CitrusCalifornia High Heat Warning Issued
June 23, 2015
The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) is advising all employers to protect their outdoor workers from the Read More
non-gmo label leafy greens
CitrusResearchers Ready To Testify Before Congress About GMOs
June 22, 2015
UF/IFAS grad students seeking to field questions relating to the GMO regulatory processes, food labeling, and product safety. Read More
2015 Florida Citrus Industry Annual Conference crowd
CitrusFlorida Citrus Growers’ Resolve Put To The Test
June 22, 2015
During annual conference, industry leaders call for an ‘all in’ approach to survive current crisis. Read More
CitrusPollinator Protection Dependent On Pure Partnerships [O…
June 18, 2015
Florida bee BMPs program has not only improved cooperation between growers and beekeepers, but also shows that voluntary efforts work. Read More
UF/IFAS certificate of farm labor management
CitrusFlorida Growers Working Toward Safety And Equality
June 17, 2015
New Certificate Program educates farm supervisors on best practices. Read More
CitrusPresident Obama Allocates $110M For Drought-Relief
June 16, 2015
On Friday, President Obama announced the investment of $110 million to support workers, farmers, and rural communities suffering from drought Read More
Lake Howell in Casselberry, FL
CitrusFarm Bureau Offers Detailed Analysis Of Waters Of The U…
June 15, 2015
Rule will give EPA “sweeping powers” to regulate land use, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. Read More
Florida BMPs grower meeting
CitrusFlorida BMPs Program Racks Up More Successes
June 15, 2015
The Florida legislature passed the 1999 Florida Watershed Restoration Act that gives the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Read More
secrets can do lots of damage
CitrusConfidentiality Counterproductive For Today’s Far…
June 15, 2015
No longer is transparency an anomaly among the grower community, it's become necessary to survive and succeed. Read More
squeezing an orange
CitrusFlorida Citrus Season Grinding Toward Sour Finish
June 10, 2015
USDA’s updated estimate keeps orange count in check at historically low total. Read More
Charlotte's Web-medical marijuana in greenhouse
CitrusFlorida Still Playing Medical Marijuana Waiting Game
June 9, 2015
Growers and potential patients hold their breath while next steps are taken to spin Charlotte’s Web. Read More
CitrusParamount Farms Renamed As Part Of The Wonderful Compan…
June 9, 2015
Roll Global officially changed its name to The Wonderful Company recently. This strategic move will align the company’s long-standing passion Read More