Grower Has Tepid Report on Bactericides for HLB

Ernie NeffBactericides, HLB Management


Tom Jerkins

Three years ago at the annual Florida Citrus Mutual Conference in Bonita Springs, Tom Jerkins, who was and still is president of the Citrus Research and Development Foundation, enthusiastically led the crowd in chanting, “We need bactericides now!”

At the same conference this year (June 15), Jerkins gave a less than enthusiastic report on his company’s yield results following one year of using bactericides against HLB. Jerkins, president of Premier Citrus, reported mixed results from various trials across Premier’s 10,000 citrus acres. In total, however, yields in treated groves declined more this past season than did yields in untreated groves, compared to the previous season.

Jerkins summarizes his company’s results and opinions following one year of bactericide use:

“We were optimistic that we would see more in the first year of the use,” he says. “But probably we should have been ready not to see so much in year one. Most of the data that we saw earlier suggested that the trees would be improving in health initially, and that maybe by the second year or even the third, the yields may come on. So, to measure yield response in the first year, I don’t know if that’s fair or not. But whether it is or isn’t, it was tough for us to detect any meaningful yield response … I don’t want to read too much into it. I would say that what complicated it this year in particular was the PFD (postbloom fruit drop), which I think complicated everybody’s data on bactericides this year … But at the end of the day, I think Premier’s committed to keep these trials and this use going into a second year.”

Jerkins addresses the data showing that yields in bactericide-treated groves declined more this past season than did yields in untreated groves, compared to the previous season: “The data I showed showed that, but we have a tough time with that” because of PFD and harvest timing impacted by fruit drop. “I’m just nervous to read too much into that. But yes, that’s what we saw … But we did see in certain blocks a nice improvement where they were harvested quickly.”

“We want this stuff (bactericides) to work, because it’s all we’ve got right now,” Jerkins says. “But we can’t want it so bad (that) we’re not realistic about what we see. But we’re going to stick with it until we see something else that looks like it’s got a better chance.”

In his presentation, Jerkins said grapefruit has been disappointing. “But the grapefruit’s just disappointing in general,” he says. “We’re not getting much positive response from much of anything on grapefruit, and not nearly as much as we would need from the bactericides right now. So again, my hope is that the same (bactericide) registrants that have the compounds can tweak the formulations or do something … to get them into the phloem and closer to where the disease is, the action point … But I think we need more on grapefruit than what we’ve got.”

Jerkins says the industry needs to find more short-term solutions to HLB. “You can’t take your focus off other products,” he says. “We’ve got to go hard on that. Hopefully these (bactericides) will maybe show some improvement in the second year and the third year. But we need something a little more dramatic … We’re going to keep the pedal to the metal until we find a few other innovations to help.”

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Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large