HLB Preparedness in Australia

Ernie NeffHLB Management, International

citrus greening
Small, lopsided fruit is infected with HLB.

Learning how other countries manage huanglongbing (HLB) will help shape Australia’s response if the damaging citrus disease hits its shores, according to New South Wales (NSW) citrus pathologist Nerida Donovan. One of the biggest lessons so far has been the importance of treating the psyllid vector with the same respect as the disease.

Donovan, with the NSW Department of Primary Industries, is part of a team working to strengthen the Australian citrus industry’s biosecurity with a project focusing on graft-transmissible diseases.

“The program is designed to enhance the preparedness of industry and government to combat citrus disease threats,” she said. “To be able to do that, we have developed the capability to test for citrus diseases that we have in the country and exotic diseases that are not found here yet.” She noted that graft transmissible pathogens “are in the vascular tissue of the plants and there is no cure for them. You either prevent them or you live with them.”

The project works closely with the Auscitrus propagation scheme to ensure industry has access to high health status propagation material. It ensures the health of materials by testing budwood and rootstock seed source trees for disease and by maintaining foundation trees of the highest health status in the National Citrus Repository Program, Donovan said.

HLB preparedness is a priority of this project, including looking at different detection methods, expanding the diagnostic capability to other labs in Australia and participating in surveillance programs.

Donovan, a Citrus Australia Citrus Pest and Disease Prevention Committee member, said a focus of the HLB preparedness has been building awareness of field systems and what the vector looks like. International collaboration and field work have better equipped scientists with these identification skills, but Donovan said one of the challenges for the Australian industry comes from outside citrus.

“It is particularly concerning that Murraya is a preferred host of the psyllid. It is a plant you see across most Australian towns and cities, in hedges in schools, businesses and homes,” Donovan said. “This means the nursery industry has to be equally invested in eradication for it to be successful.”

Donovan said there were many factors which determined Australia’s ability to deal with HLB. “It would depend on where it is found, the magnitude of the spread, and how early we detect it as to how we respond and even if we are able to respond and eradicate,” she said.

Learn more about Donovan’s, and Australia’s, efforts to prepare for HLB.

Source: Citrus Australia

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