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

CitrusMcCrometer Introduces New Ag Management Mobile App
October 22, 2014
The app displays data on weather, ET, soil moisture, water flow, and more. Read More
CitrusAgriculture, Interior Departments Partner To Measure Conservation Impacts On Water Quality
October 22, 2014
Goal is to provide science-based information for watershed wellness. Read More
CitrusIt’s Time For Young Farming Leaders To Engage [Opinion]
October 21, 2014
Florida Grower editor Frank Giles says there are capable and talented youths in the ag field ready to step up and take the reins. Read More
CitrusBayer CropScience Launches New Award To Recognize Produce Industry Innovators
October 21, 2014
Award recognizes innovation that enhances the role of produce in creating better lives. Read More
CitrusReport: Major Food And Agriculture Employers Can’t Fill Vital Jobs
October 21, 2014
Current shortage of young farming professionals means ample employment opportunity for the next generation. Read More
CitrusGrowers Need To Take The Ball And Run — Now! [Opinion]
October 18, 2014
Help yourself, your farm, and fellow colleagues by becoming more involved in your industry. Read More
CitrusLegendary Florida Citrus Grower And Advocate Passes
October 17, 2014
Joe L. Davis Sr. will be remembered for his straight talk and sage advice. Read More

The Latest

CitrusFlorida Citrus Growers Get Box Tax Relief
October 23, 2014
Citrus Commission votes to put dollars back in producers’ hands to spur reinvestment. Read More
CitrusEPA Launches Program To Reduce Pesticide Drift
October 22, 2014
The voluntary star-rating program aims to protect people, wildlife and the environment. Read More
CitrusMcCrometer Introduces New Ag Management Mobile App
October 22, 2014
The app displays data on weather, ET, soil moisture, water flow, and more. Read More
CitrusAgriculture, Interior Departments Partner To Measure Co…
October 22, 2014
Goal is to provide science-based information for watershed wellness. Read More
CitrusIt’s Time For Young Farming Leaders To Engage [Op…
October 21, 2014
Florida Grower editor Frank Giles says there are capable and talented youths in the ag field ready to step up and take the reins. Read More
CitrusBayer CropScience Launches New Award To Recognize Produ…
October 21, 2014
Award recognizes innovation that enhances the role of produce in creating better lives. Read More
CitrusReport: Major Food And Agriculture Employers Can’t Fi…
October 21, 2014
Current shortage of young farming professionals means ample employment opportunity for the next generation. Read More
CitrusGrowers Need To Take The Ball And Run — Now! [Opi…
October 18, 2014
Help yourself, your farm, and fellow colleagues by becoming more involved in your industry. Read More
CitrusLegendary Florida Citrus Grower And Advocate Passes
October 17, 2014
Joe L. Davis Sr. will be remembered for his straight talk and sage advice. Read More
CitrusDiversification Is King For Small Farm’s Success
October 16, 2014
Being flexible and adapting to the times critical for Central Florida's Vo-LaSalle Farms. Read More
CitrusAsian Citrus Psyllid Moves Into Northern California
October 15, 2014
First detections made of damaging insect in Santa Clara and San Joaquin counties. Read More
CitrusScientists Uproot Common “Superweed” Myths
October 15, 2014
A new fact sheet is available that explores the truth behind two fallacies.   Read More
CitrusUF/IFAS Joins In On Specialty Crop Block Grant Bonanza
October 15, 2014
Researchers partnering with FDACS and USDA on 24 separate projects to strengthen the produce market sector. Read More
Citrus2015 Florida Agricultural Hall Of Fame Inductees Announ…
October 14, 2014
Six more to be honored for helping shape and influence the state’s farming industry. Read More
CitrusElevated Expectations For Forthcoming Florida Citrus Cr…
October 10, 2014
USDA’s first forecast comes in markedly higher than pundits’ pre-season predictions. Read More
CitrusNew Jersey Green Industry Council Will Host Pollinator …
October 8, 2014
The New Jersey Green Industry Council’s 2014 Pollinator Summit is an event and issue briefing for everyone who works in Read More
CitrusFarm Bureau Urges Senate To Ditch Proposed Water Rule
October 8, 2014
Farm Bureau says the time is now to have the proposed water rule withdrawn. Read More
Citrus2014 Irrigation Show To Highlight Education
October 6, 2014
The conference, to be held in Phoenix, AZ, brings together all aspects of irrigation and water management: education, certification, networking, and innovative technologies. Read More