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
storm clouds
CitrusSouth Florida Rainy Season Could Wind Up On Drier Side
May 20, 2015
National Weather Service anticipating El Niño to play a hand in possible below-normal conditions. Read More
CitrusBad Weather Or Not, Preparation Always On Radar For Florida Farmers [Opinion]
May 19, 2015
You cannot prevent a natural disaster from taking everything you have, but you can lessen the blow if and when it happens. Read More
CitrusSave Your Greenhouse Structures From Storms
May 19, 2015
Make sure your protected agriculture components are prepared for whatever may blow this way. Read More
BB Hobbs Inc. warehouse in Plant City, FL
CitrusBB Hobbs Bolsters Business In Central Florida
May 18, 2015
Irrigation specialists celebrate opening of new branch warehouse in Plant City. Read More
CitrusHouse Votes To Stop “Flawed” Waters Of The United States Rule
May 15, 2015
The U.S. House of Representatives approved this week bipartisan legislation that requires the withdrawal of the Waters of the United Read More
CitrusPointers On How To Save Money, Increase Sprayer Efficiency
May 15, 2015
Using clean water when calibrating a pesticide sprayer and carrying extra nozzles for quick repair of simple problems in the Read More
Wes Roan of Lipman Produce talks with participants of FFVA's Spring Regulatory Tour.
CitrusFlorida Farming Show & Tell Earns Regulators’ Respect
May 15, 2015
FFVA's annual Spring Regulatory Tour allows those who write regulations controlling water, crop protection chemicals, food safety, and more an opportunity to see production practices firsthand. Read More
The Latest
Operation Outdoor Freedom participants
CitrusFlorida Proud To Be Home Of The Brave [Opinion]
May 25, 2015
Operation Outdoor Freedom invites wounded service members and veterans of the U.S. military to enjoy recreational activities in state forests and on private lands. Read More
Expansion groundbreaking for Southwest Florida Research and Education Center
CitrusSouthwest Florida Research And Education Center Embraci…
May 20, 2015
A 7,000-square-foot addition to the UF/IFAS facility will house labs and offices for potential new faculty members. Read More
storm clouds
CitrusSouth Florida Rainy Season Could Wind Up On Drier Side
May 20, 2015
National Weather Service anticipating El Niño to play a hand in possible below-normal conditions. Read More
CitrusBad Weather Or Not, Preparation Always On Radar For Flo…
May 19, 2015
You cannot prevent a natural disaster from taking everything you have, but you can lessen the blow if and when it happens. Read More
CitrusSave Your Greenhouse Structures From Storms
May 19, 2015
Make sure your protected agriculture components are prepared for whatever may blow this way. Read More
BB Hobbs Inc. warehouse in Plant City, FL
CitrusBB Hobbs Bolsters Business In Central Florida
May 18, 2015
Irrigation specialists celebrate opening of new branch warehouse in Plant City. Read More
CitrusHouse Votes To Stop “Flawed” Waters Of The United State…
May 15, 2015
The U.S. House of Representatives approved this week bipartisan legislation that requires the withdrawal of the Waters of the United Read More
CitrusPointers On How To Save Money, Increase Sprayer Efficie…
May 15, 2015
Using clean water when calibrating a pesticide sprayer and carrying extra nozzles for quick repair of simple problems in the Read More
Wes Roan of Lipman Produce talks with participants of FFVA's Spring Regulatory Tour.
CitrusFlorida Farming Show & Tell Earns Regulators’…
May 15, 2015
FFVA's annual Spring Regulatory Tour allows those who write regulations controlling water, crop protection chemicals, food safety, and more an opportunity to see production practices firsthand. Read More
CitrusUSDA Announces $11.9M In Assistance For Organic Certifi…
May 14, 2015
Following on the heels of the USDA’s announcement of record growth in the organic sector, the USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service Read More
CitrusBeekeepers Lost 40% Of Bees In 2014-15
May 14, 2015
Beekeepers across the U.S. lost more than 40% of their honey bee colonies from April 2014 to April 2015, according to the latest results of Read More
CitrusReport: Florida Agriculture Property Values Remain Firm
May 12, 2015
Lay of the land confirms farm tracts are good investment. Read More
CitrusFlorida Orange Crop Now Projected To Be Lowest In Nearl…
May 12, 2015
Not since the 1965-1966 season have production numbers looked so bleak. Read More
CitrusImportant Crop Insurance Deadline Nearing For Growers
May 12, 2015
Specialty crop, other producers need to certify conservation compliance by June 1. Read More
CitrusAbout 58,000 Jobs In Agriculture And Related Fields Are…
May 12, 2015
National report says the jobs reflect a need for a skilled and trained workforce to support a growing population. Read More
CitrusEPA Approves Experimental Use Permit Of Spinach Trait T…
May 8, 2015
Agency allows potential breakthrough to move forward for further testing. Read More
CitrusSyngenta Rejects Monsanto’s Buyout Bid
May 8, 2015
Company says $45 billion offer undervalues future prospects. Read More
CitrusMediterranean Fruit Fly Found In JFK Airport
May 5, 2015
The Mediterranean fruit fly, one of the world’s most destructive pests, was recently intercepted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection Read More