In a Jan. 12 virtual Zoom seminar from Immokalee (dubbed “Zoom’okalee” in the presentation), researcher Ozgur Batuman reviewed old and new approaches to controlling HLB. The seminar was titled “Citrus Disease Trends We Should Heed: HLB, Phytophthora and Leprosis.”
Batuman works for the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Southwest Florida Research and Education Center (SWFREC) in Immokalee. This presentation and many others from UF/IFAS have been presented virtually via Zoom, instead of in person, since the COVID-19 pandemic began early in 2020.
Existing strategies that are known to work to some extent against HLB include reducing populations of the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP), which is the vector of the disease, Batuman said. Successful ACP reduction strategies include chemical and biological control, reflective mulch and kaolin clay spray, citrus under protective screen, individual protective covers and removal of preferred alternative hosts of ACP.
Potential new HLB controls that are not yet proven but are being researched include peptides, CRISPR, RNAi and transgenic approaches.
A seminar slide titled “How to manage HLB?” stated that there is “no silver bullet yet,” and that integrated pest management (IPM) “is your best option.” IPM includes:
- Monitoring for all pests and diseases
- Acting on what is discovered
- Reducing inoculum sources as much as possible
- Removing infected trees and establishing clean resets
- Implementing measures to reduce psyllid populations
- Improving plant nutrition and irrigation programs
- Paying attention to root health
Batuman said ACP control is the best place for growers to spend money aimed at HLB control. He referred to the disease as “the elephant in the room.” Indeed, since being discovered in Florida in 2005, HLB has caused more problems for the state’s citrus industry than any other pest or disease before or since.
“We have not yet given up on HLB,” Batuman declared.
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