Southern Gardens Citrus has planted the first research field trials of potential canker and greening disease-resistant citrus trees in its Hendry County citrus groves. The trees, noted to be resistant to canker and greening in the lab, were planted in small plots to determine if the trees are disease resistant under commercial grove conditions.
“These field trials are an important milestone both in our own proactive program dealing with disease and in the industry-wide efforts to save Florida citrus,” said Rick Kress, president, Southern Gardens Citrus.
Kress said the citrus trees produced using biotechnology are the result of research initiated in early 2007 with Texas A&M AgriLife Research. After the plants showed promising results in the laboratory, Southern Gardens secured a field trial permit from the United States Department of Agriculture Biotechnology Bioregulatory Services.
As required by the issued field trial permit, “There are federal regulations and very stringent protocols that we must follow to ensure the safety and integrity of these field trials, including strict access control,” Kress said.
Citrus greening disease or Huanglongbing (HLB) is considered to be the most serious disease of citrus trees in the world. HLB was first identified and confirmed in Florida in September 2005. Today, HLB has spread to all Florida counties with commercial citrus groves.
Southern Gardens Citrus, one of the largest citrus producers in the state, has three groves in southwest Florida, all of which are infected to some extent with HLB. Southern Gardens is currently working with a number of groups including UF/IFAS, Texas A&M AgriLife Research, USDA, FDACS, and other universities and independent researchers on projects aimed at developing environmentally and scientifically proven methods to manage and control the disease.
“Southern Gardens’ research field trials represent a major step forward in determining a final solution for eliminating this disease,” Kress said.