Optimism is Alive and Well for Future of Florida Citrus
Earlier this year, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released a review of the Florida citrus industry’s greening research and development effort. It is basically a follow-up to the report NAS issued in 2010 regarding what the industry should do to combat and ultimately defeat the insidious disease. Although the document is fairly positive, considering the current environment, the media and others not surprisingly latched onto the negatives and crafted stories that painted a bleak picture. The results were frustrating.
The headlines screamed “Citrus Greening Research Could Improve,” “Scientists Have No Idea How to Fight Greening,” “Single Big Breakthrough Unlikely for Citrus Greening Cure.”
Only a few of the articles mentioned that growers have known from the beginning the battle against HLB would be waged on several fronts and that a silver bullet “cure” was not likely in the short term. And that is exactly the context permeating the research effort over the past 10 years.
Through the hard work of the Citrus Research and Development Foundation (CRDF), the industry has been successful in following the road map laid out by NAS in 2010. We know a lot more about HLB than we used to. And tools have been added to the toolbox.
When we found greening in commercial groves, we essentially had no baseline research on the disease. We started the multimillion-dollar, multifaceted research push from scratch. As far as grove-level solutions now being implemented as a result of research, growers are now feeding trees differently with more attention to what specific blocks need according to variety, soil, and water. They also are adjusting irrigation frequency and duration and water quality to satisfy trees.
Targeted micronutrients are becoming standard. The practices have sustained and, in some cases, improved yields even with 100% HLB infection. These are real-life production improvements uncovered by growers and scientists over the past decade. And although they won’t garner flashy headlines that the media will latch on to, they will provide a bridge until long-term answers are uncovered.
On a purely scientific level, the NAS report outlined several areas where we now have knowledge including vector-host interactions, host-pathogen interactions, host plant defense mechanisms, pathogen-vector interactions, diagnostics, as well as HLB management, citrus genetics, and breeding.
All of these are leading to longer-term solutions for Florida citrus —notice I didn’t say cures — whether it be RNAi, CRISPR technology, or biotechnology.
And the CRDF has re-doubled its effort to communicate results to growers. Interim COO John Arthington and Board Chairman Larry Black have committed to providing additional seminars, website improvements, Extension agents, and more grower-focused written reports to let CRDF constituents know how state, federal, and grower tax dollars are being utilized to fight HLB.
We have the best and brightest scientists from across the world working on this puzzle. We are making headway thanks to the CRDF and others, and I continue to be very optimistic about the future of Florida citrus.