About four years ago, Fernando Alferez started to test whether citrus trees grown inside protective mesh covers could be kept safe from the HLB-spreading Asian citrus psyllid. New research from Alferez shows that citrus trees grown under individual protective covers (IPCs) show no signs of HLB, also known as citrus greening. Specifically, scientists found that psyllids cannot penetrate the IPCs because the diameter of their openings is smaller than the insects. Alferez is a horticulturist with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).
“Our research has confirmed that the IPCs are effective in keeping the trees free from HLB at least until they start producing fruit,” said Alferez, an assistant professor at the Southwest Florida Research and Education Center. “This is important because until now, once the trees were planted, they were exposed to the psyllid, which carries the disease. So, they became infected with greening in a matter of months.”
Many growers already use IPCs. They’re seeing that trees are ready to produce fruit — typically two years after planting — and they are healthy, Alferez said. So, the trees can produce better quality and quantity of citrus.
Meanwhile, Alferez and his colleagues are keeping an eye on other pests because the environment inside the bags can be favorable for things like mealybugs and armyworms. Also, in his continued research into IPCs, Alferez is assessing the quality of the fruit, but initial data show a significant improvement in Brix — the percentage of sucrose by weight in each citrus fruit — and no fruit drop in these trees.
Source: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
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