While citrus growers continue to look for the best practices to fight the deadly huanglongbing (HLB) disease, researchers are taking an integrated approach at protecting young trees by using tools growers already have access to.
“In Florida and pretty much every citrus-producing area, we’ve been doing a lot of replanting or resets,” says Lauren Diepenbrock, an assistant professor of entomology at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) and research project leader. She says there’s a lot of questions on what’s the best way to give young trees a fighting chance in an era with endemic HLB.
Five UF/IFAS scientists are comparing several insect-management tools. This includes evaluation of individual protective covers (IPCs), which are essentially bag-like covers placed over newly planted trees to keep pests away.
In addition, researchers are also studying reflective mulch, kaolin clay and chemical-based insect pest management. Kaolin clay is a powdery white compound that is sprayed over the trees. Kaolin provides trees with a rough surface, making it harder for HLB-spreading psyllids to grasp. The clay may reduce the transmission of HLB and provide some shade to the plant, allowing better growth.
Through this U.S. Department of Agriculture funded project, the research team hopes to develop new recommendations and provide a comprehensive overview of existing tools that growers can use to combat HLB.
According to Diepenbrock, it was actually growers that inspired this research project. Many growers had already invested in reflective mulch, IPCs and other management tools. However, there were no comprehensive solutions available to them yet.
The research project has secured two years of funding. Diepenbrock hopes to receive additional funding in order to study the impacts of these tools on harvest.
This interview with Diepenbrock is part of the June All In For Citrus podcast, a joint venture of UF/IFAS and AgNet Media. Listen to the full podcast.
Ashley Robinson, AgNet Media communications intern, wrote this article.
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