Florida’s citrus growers are counting on research to help sustain what’s left of an industry decimated by huanglongbing (HLB). The disease remains a focal point of research at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).
Scott Angle, vice president for agriculture and natural resources at UF/IFAS, understands the ramifications if improved HLB management options aren’t available soon.
“Citrus greening has obviously devastated the industry in this state,” Angle says. “We’re down to less than half of production. That’s despite having spent almost a billion dollars on this disease. To me, it’s hard to imagine, we spend a billion dollars, and we can’t solve a problem.”
Angle says it has been difficult to find better management tools for this complex disease. “At this point, I don’t even know that we’re looking for a cure. We’re just looking to try to manage the citrus trees in a way that they can hang on longer. So when we do find that cure, that silver bullet that’s not obvious to us at this point, then we can keep those farmers in business.”
UF/IFAS is examining the HLB problem from multiple angles. Efforts include the following research projects:
Led by Claudio Gonzalez, a UF/IFAS microbiology and cell science professor, a team of plant pathologists, horticulturists and citrus breeders have identified new management tactics that have slowed the spread of the bacterium.
Ute Albrecht, Ramdas Kanissery and Sarah Strauss, assistant professors at the UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center, are collaborating with University of California-Riverside on a $10 million grant to examine root decline associated with trees infected with HLB.
In other research focused on HLB, Lorenzo Rossi, an assistant professor at the UF/IFAS Indian River Research and Education Center, and Jawwad Quershi, an assistant professor at UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center, will collaborate with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service on a grant to examine different ways to deliver therapeutic growing methods.
“We’re going to continue to help citrus farmers stay in business until we can find longer-term cures for this,” Angle says. “We’ve got all kinds of things we’re looking at, including proteins we might spray in the tree that might interact with the psyllid that can spread the organism. We’ve got other people looking at breeding efforts to try to find rootstocks that might be a little more resistant to it. Then we’re especially looking at nutrition and irrigation as ways to help keep these plants alive for just a little longer, hoping for that day when the cure is here.”