Brutal Honesty on HLB

Ernie NeffCRDF, HLB Management

HLB
The Asian citrus psyllid transmits HLB.
Photo by David Hall, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org

Rick Dantzler did not follow normal protocol in providing an update about his organization’s efforts. Dantzler, chief operating officer of the Citrus Research and Development Foundation (CRDF), didn’t talk glowingly about CRDF’s accomplishments. Rather, he started off by telling how far the Florida citrus industry has declined since CRDF was formed in 2009 primarily to find a solution to HLB.

Speaking at Florida Citrus Mutual’s June 8 annual meeting, Dantzler noted that since 2009, Florida citrus acreage has declined from 451,100 acres to 351,057. In the same time, the number of growers has plummeted from 8,000 to 2,500. Orange production has tumbled from 133.7 million boxes to 51.7 million boxes and grapefruit production from 20.3 million boxes to 4.4 million boxes, he said. And through that decline, he added, CRDF has spent almost $165 million funding research and development projects, primarily targeted at HLB.

“We cannot act as though our research has been more successful than it has been,” Dantzler told Mutual’s board of directors and others gathered at Mutual headquarters in Bartow.   

Dantzler said CRDF started off focusing on research to learn more about HLB, which has devastated citrus industries around the world. And it has learned much about the disease and production practices that help growers produce fruit, he said. In the last several years, the organization has put more effort into applied research and development efforts “to help you in your business,” Dantzler reported. Despite those efforts, he said, the industry is “still going in the wrong direction.”

But Dantzler said he remains confident that CRDF has strong potential to “eradicate HLB or make it functionally irrelevant.” Among his reasons for optimism are new research projects that were recently approved, including on peptides; reforms the CRDF has recently made in its plant improvement efforts; and its large-scale rootstock and scion trials.

“We are not there to support the Research-Industrial Complex,” Dantzler said. “We are there to solve a problem.”  

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