Huanglongbing (HLB), or citrus greening disease, was a hot topic at the recent Georgia Citrus Association Conference held in Tifton. As the Georgia citrus industry continues to grow, it is taking precautions to prevent the spread of HLB.
Lindy Savelle, president of the Georgia Citrus Association, said although HLB has not been detected yet in Georgia, the industry is preparing for the worst with help from citrus experts from the University of Florida and a Specialty Crop Block Grant.
In 2017, the Georgia citrus industry doubled in size. According to Savelle, at the end of 2016, there were approximately 21,000 trees in the ground. At the end of 2017, that number grew to 42,000 trees. This explosion in trees brought in a lot of new growers. Savelle said most growers are putting in roughly 5 acres (750 trees).
While the exponential growth of the industry is encouraging, new growers are still becoming acclimated to growing citrus and learning about potential threats to the industry, including HLB.
Savelle said the first step against HLB is grower education. The association applied for a Specialty Crop Block Grant, which has been funded for three fiscal years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Georgia Department of Agriculture. The grant money will go toward educating new growers about disease as well as implementing a citrus health management plan.
“The Georgia Citrus Association board of directors has been told by the experts from Florida: ‘You must protect your industry, and you must start now to protect yourself from what could happen in the future.’ That’s what we’re doing,” Savelle concluded.
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