California Ag Chief Prepared to Battle HLB

Len WilcoxCalifornia Corner, HLB Management

citrus greening
CDFA head Karen Ross

Karen Ross

In an interview at the Citrus Research Board’s (CRB) annual conference last month, Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), said the present status of huanglongbing (HLB) disease is similar to another disease that challenged the California citrus industry years ago. Pierce’s disease was a potentially devastating threat long before HLB.

“One of the things we learned in Pierce’s disease was that we were leaving the reservoir of the bacterium there,” Ross said. “That’s why the early detection tools are so critically important. If in fact we identify a tree that has the bacterium in it, we need to be able to provide assurances” that the tree is diseased.

She added, “The executive committee of the Citrus Committee and the Pierce’s Disease Board are going to meet to just share lessons learned — some of the strategies — because some of the research that’s happened in Pierce’s disease has application for this and vice versa. There’s a lot for us to learn from each other.

“It’s so frightening at the time to be in the heat of that battle. And so that’s why this is a really good time to do a strategic plan, because we’ve got to be in this for the long haul and make sure we’re putting the resources around the right priorities. It’s about keeping the pest vector of the disease away from our commercial production and to rapidly work on long-term cures.”

Ross also spoke about the investment made by CDFA in HLB detection and prevention. “Some of the early work we’re doing now is really around the early detection tools,” she said. “And there’s a lot of interest in the dog detector teams. So we’ve helped to assist with site visits for that, doing additional sampling, doing leaf collection for researchers, to get it to a level of certainty that replications are always there. Because if people are going to think about pulling trees or multiple trees in a commercial orchard setting, you want to have more than an 80 percent degree of certainty. It’s your management decision to make.”

From a regulatory point of view, Ross said, “It’s even more important to get that replication certainty because we’re compelling people to take actions as opposed to a landowner deciding this is the right thing for their property.”

During her presentation at the CRB conference, Ross said there was a 300 percent increase in the boots-on-the-ground efforts from the agency. “It is (a lot of effort), and there is an early investment that the state of California has made for decades and decades,” she said. “I will tell you that every time I have to buy a new piece of equipment, it’s at a cost that’s a lot different than it used to be. But it also detects at smaller levels. But you need great diagnostics and people who are trained in diagnostics. I’m not sure we always value that piece of science enough to do that kind of diagnostic work. It’s a commitment to the work and the focus, and then having the equipment and the people who are skilled.”

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About the Author

Len Wilcox

Correspondent at Large for Citrus Industry Magazine and AgNet West