HLB Update for North Florida, South Georgia

Ernie NeffCitrus Greening

Citrus greening-scarred fruit

Since 2018, there have been no huanglongbing (HLB) finds in commercial citrus groves in North Florida, and there have still been no disease detections in Georgia groves.

In North Florida, HLB was detected in groves in Live Oak in Suwanee County and Perry in Taylor County in 2018, reported Xavier Martini, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) researcher. “Each time we found a HLB tree in a citrus grove in these locations, our growers have been very proactive in removing infected trees,” Martini stated. He added that the disease has been found mostly in residential areas in North Florida, primarily along the Gulf of Mexico coast and along I-75.

Martini reported that the Live Oak and Perry locations were the only ones in commercial groves where the HLB-spreading Asian citrus psyllids have been found in North Florida. “In the Panhandle, so far psyllids are only found in residential areas,” he stated.

Psyllids are “very common” in Duval County on the northeast Florida coast, as is HLB, reported Larry Figart, UF/IFAS urban forestry Extension agent in that county. Duval County encompasses Jacksonville and doesn’t have commercial groves.

“I would say anecdotally about 65 to 70 percent of the trees I see have greening (HLB) symptoms, although I may be seeing the worst because folks don’t call to say they have pretty trees,” Figart stated. He added, “I get at least one email (and more) a day with images of symptomatic leaves. The first PCR confirmation that I initiated was five to six years ago.”

Figart said the first sign of HLB he sees is leaf mottling. “I don’t see the yellowing until later,” he stated. “However, with homeowners, they don’t get concerned until the fruit drops. That is a few years after the fact.”

A little farther north, in the fledgling South Georgia citrus industry, the Asian citrus psyllid has been found in many places. HLB has not been detected in commercial citrus groves in Georgia, but has been found in non-commercial sites, said Georgia Citrus Association President Lindy Savelle.

The University of Georgia (UGA) collected leaf samples in South Georgia from May to August 2019 but found only eight HLB-positive samples. The positives were in residential sites and a public school site. “The psyllid vector has been previously found in all coastal counties in Georgia and was found in Lowndes and Charlton counties in 2018,” the UGA report stated.

Texas A&M University research has indicated that the presence of Asian citrus psyllids may give a year’s warning of HLB.

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Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large