California Citrus Research Board: Serving Growers for 50 Years

By Len Wilcox

citrus research board

The California Citrus Research Board is led by Dan Dreyer, chairman (left), and Gary Schulz, president/CEO. (Photo courtesy of California Citrus Research Board)

The grower-funded California Citrus Research Board (CRB) is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Headquartered in the Central Valley city of Visalia, under the direction of president/CEO Gary Schulz, the CRB awards more than $7 million each year to researchers throughout California. Since 2008, CRB has focused much of its efforts on huanglongbing (HLB), with approximately $33 million spent to date to find methods to control the catastrophic disease.

HLB AND BEYOND
“But, HLB research isn’t all that we do,” said Carolina Evangelo, director of communications for CRB. “Many other projects come before the board. For example, we also provide funds for developing new citrus varieties, support Lindcove (Research and Extension Center) and other research center operations by purchasing everything from tractors to lab equipment for them, provide support for the Citrus Clonal Protection Program and California Citrus Quality Council, and more. Our mission is to sustain the viability of the California citrus industry.”

Another component of the CRB is the Jerry Dimitman Laboratory in Riverside, California. The laboratory is currently going through the accreditation procedure to process Asian citrus psyllid samples. The new lab director, Qijun Xiang, will work with the California Department of Food and Agriculture Citrus Pest and Disease Prevention Committee (CPDPC), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)–Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, USDA–Agricultural Research Service and county pest control districts on regional diagnostic programs.

A widely published researcher, Xiang received his doctorate in microbiology from the University of California, Berkeley Department of Plant and Microbial Biology. He obtained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in plant genetics and breeding from the China Agricultural University in Beijing.

ETHYL FORMATE ON THE AGENDA
Another major project the CRB is currently funding is shepherding ethyl formate through the federal and state testing and approval process for use as a pesticide in citrus. It is a useful fumigant and pesticide that research has shown to have beneficial uses with citrus.

Evangelo says researchers believe that ethyl formate is a commitment to increasing demands for pest-free security. It is a plant-protection material that is already naturally found in citrus and other plants.

“Ethyl formate is a post-harvest tool that enables many new opportunities for pest management, none more important than the critical need to control Asian citrus psyllid and other key surface pests on field-binned fruit, prior to transportation from the grove,” according to researcher Spencer Walse. “From a regulatory viewpoint, ethyl formate will comply with domestic and international phytosanitary requirements, and perhaps more importantly, is well-situated for compliance with human and environmental health considerations.”

FUNDING AND LEADERSHIP
Research projects such as these are why the CRB was created in 1968 by the California Marketing Act. It is a method to sponsor needed research and is funded by the state’s citrus growers with an assessment of $.053 per 40-pound standard field box on all types and varieties of citrus, except limes. The CRB augments the grower contributions by seeking out state and federal grants to obtain additional funding for research projects.

Overseen by the Department of Food and Agriculture, CRB is run by a 21-member board of directors, comprised of 20 citrus growers and one public member. The public member spot was vacant until recently, when Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner Marilyn Kinoshita was appointed to fill it.

The CRB chairman, Exeter grower Dan Dreyer, was elected to a 1-year term in September 2017. He is a third-generation California family farmer. Dreyer has vast involvement in numerous CRB committees. He has served as past chair of the communications and production efficiency sub-committees, as a member of the executive, pest management, vectored disease and quality assurance committees, and as chairman of the research priority screening committee. In addition to farming his own citrus, Dreyer is a farm manager at Limoneira Company, where he is responsible for daily management and redevelopment of citrus properties in northern Tulare County. He also previously served as Northern Tulare County grower liaison for the CPDPC.

citrus research board

The 2017 California Citrus Conference hosted nearly 600 attendees. (Photo courtesy of California Citrus Research Board)

EDUCATIONAL OUTREACH
Besides providing extensive research funding, the CRB maintains an outreach program for growers. The CRB’s two major annual events are the California Citrus Conference and the Post-Harvest Conference. The organization also hosts regional seminars that keep growers updated on new developments in research and regulations affecting their industry. In addition, CRB publishes Citrograph magazine, a quarterly publication that showcases ongoing grower-funded research, and a monthly e-newsletter.

With these and dozens of other projects funded over the last 50 years, the CRB is continuing to lead the California citrus industry to a brighter future. The state’s growers seem to be getting an excellent return on their investment.

Len Wilcox is a freelance writer in Sanger, California.

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About the Author

Len Wilcox

Len Wilcox is a retired scientist who also ran a newspaper and has written for agricultural publications since the 1980s. He was a regular contributor to California Farmer Magazine. His commentary "The Western View" is a regular feature on Farm City Newsday and AgNet West.