Dialoging to Climb Out from the HLB Hole

Tacy CalliesHLB Management


By Bill Castle and Pete Spyke

There’s an old story that goes something like this: A farmer was out walking one evening and fell into a hole deep enough to require help to get out. Later, another farmer was walking by and jumped into the hole. The farmer in the hole was astounded and asked, “Why did you do that?” The other farmer answered, “Because we are now in this hole together and we can figure a way out together.” Soon, other farmers joined the two in the hole because that’s what everyone else was doing. But then, more farmers and scientists came by and looked into the hole. They realized there may be better choices and talked about possible solutions. It was eventually decided that by lowering a ladder into the hole, everyone could climb out.

The point of the story is that there is still not enough dialog happening in the citrus industry. For example, consider this perspective at the production level: HLB was discovered in Florida in 2005, at which time there were 641,400 bearing acres of citrus in the state. As of 2015–16, that number decreased to 435,300 acres, a reduction of 32 percent.

One interpretation of those numbers is that the industry has continued largely unchanged, planting the same varieties and using the same cultural practices, resulting in a 32 percent smaller industry. One thing is certain: If we keep making the same choices, things will probably keep happening much as they have. Is there an alternative? Maybe, but because it will be “alternative,” it will, by definition, involve making different choices.

Sure, times are difficult as our industry shrinks and financial and other resources get smaller. But, is this the time to act, retreat or simply let circumstances unfold as they may?

Is there any strategic thinking or planning going on right now? Under whose leadership? We’d certainly have better ideas after a series of grower-directed dialogs where growers share, interact and plan. Who can or should lead such dialog? University of Florida, Citrus Research and Development Foundation, Florida Citrus Mutual, Florida Department of Citrus or demanding growers? What about the Florida Citrus Production Managers Association?

Two basic tenets of true dialog are to suspend your views and listen while openly accepting and examining all points of view. Therefore, to follow those tenets while continuing with the citrus production theme, we urge that different, more interactive dialog be held on a host of questions. In fact, an initial dialog could be held to identify those questions, then review and discuss the most important, timely questions. Here are just a few examples that we encounter in talking with growers and researchers:

  • Is it necessary to spray for psyllids at all? This is a controversial question that merits an organized, systematic approach to starting dialog and conducting a state-of-the-problem review.
  • What are nutritional roles in the HLB era? Some growers are apparently using new nutritional programs to successfully mitigate HLB. These are not always based on conventional research, but when applied to groves, it is hard to ignore the good tree performance.
  • If we are going to make a deliberate effort to employ the best available HLB-management tools, then what new and legacy scions and rootstocks are available and what is known about them? Shouldn’t there be an industrywide dialog given how important and timely the subject is at the moment?

There are so many good people and so much good experience and good thinking available within our industry to just let it all float out there. These resources need to be captured and put to use through carefully considered dialog.

Bill Castle is a University of Florida emeritus professor. Pete Spyke is a citrus grower, caretaker and gift fruit shop owner.

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