Citrus Greening Inevitable for North Florida, South Georgia

Tacy CalliesCitrus Greening

citrus greening
citrus greening
Citrus tree infected with citrus greening

It’s not a question of if citrus greening disease will be an issue for North Florida and South Georgia citrus growers, but when will it be.

Fred Gmitter, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences citrus breeder, believes the disease’s impact in both areas is inevitable. He shared his assessment during a recent Cold Tolerant Citrus Production Workshop in Perry, Florida.

“Everywhere I’ve traveled in the world where the (Asian citrus) psyllid has been, I’ve seen greening,” Gmitter said. “One of the common psychological responses that people have is denial. I’ve been in places, China for example, where they told me, ‘We don’t have greening.’ I’m looking at 25% of the trees with greening. They say it’s something else, but sure enough, three years, four years, 10 years later, the industry in that area is down the tubes.

“I don’t think there’s anything particularly special about North Florida and South Georgia that’s going to prevent this from being a problem there. I hope I’m wrong. I would love to be wrong on this.”

Gmitter could not give a timeframe on when the disease would make its way northward but said it will depend on how proactive producers are.

“The growers in Central and South Florida had their heads in the sand. They had the psyllid for seven years, and when we first found the psyllid, we said, ‘Okay, it moves greening, but we don’t have greening. So, it’s not a problem,’” Gmitter said. “Then when we found the first tree (with greening) … some of the groves were already 25% symptomatic. Growers in Central Florida were saying, ‘It’s a problem in South Florida. It’s different down there. It’s not going to be a problem here in Central Florida.’” They were wrong.

However, Gmitter said growers can take steps to delay the disease’s inevitability.

“If you look, for example, at what’s happened in California, (greening) has been in the state for a long time. But the main (commercial citrus production) area has been spared up until this point in time. They’ve been extremely proactive in regulating and policing what’s going on. They’ve so far kept it out of the Central Valley,” Gmitter said.

He advised growers to watch for greening. “When you find it, stamp it out if you can. That’s not a long-term strategy, though, I don’t think,” said Gmitter. “Longer term, start thinking about some of the evidence we have that certain rootstocks make the trees more tolerant of the disease. If you’re going to have to live with the disease, start thinking about trying some of those rootstocks now to see how they work in South Georgia and North Florida soils.”

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Clint Thompson