By Lindy Savelle
Earlier this year, a small grove owner in Grady County, Georgia, noticed some odd-looking trees in his grove. The leaves, having an asymmetrical discoloration, appeared to be nutritionally deficient. In an attempt to remedy the problem, the grower reached out to the Grady County Extension office for help. The Extension agent began his quest to figure out the trees’ issue(s).
After collecting a number of leaf samples, the Extension agent contacted a citrus specialist for assistance and, as a precautionary measure, submitted the samples for testing to the University of Georgia Plant Molecular Diagnostic Lab to determine if the trees were diseased. When the lab results came back, the Extension agent found himself in a situation he had never before encountered — what to do about trees infested with huanglongbing (also known as HLB or citrus greening).
As Georgia’s citrus industry continues to grow and expand, investors of all types are planting trees by the thousands, putting in packing sheds in strategic locations and erecting certified greenhouse nurseries to meet the demands for clean plant material. Although citrus greening does exist in several homeowner yards in other parts of Georgia, this was the first time the disease has been found in the southwest section of the state. Those involved knew swift action on everyone’s part was critical.
The Extension agent immediately relied on the knowledge of an experienced citrus consultant and representatives of the Georgia Citrus Association for guidance on what to do next. Everyone knew it was likely that if one tree was infested, others were too. The only thing to do was to act quickly to stop the potential spread to other groves.
Although the grove owners had invested four years of labor in growing the trees, they recognized they should destroy the trees by removing and burning them. Upon the owners’ agreement, several volunteers from Georgia and Florida promptly came to the grove, bringing tractors, trailers, chains and removal equipment to pull up nearly 70 trees and burn them. Within two days, what was once a grove was down and gone. Representatives of the Georgia Citrus Association thank all the volunteers, especially those of the Cold Hardy Citrus Association, for their assistance efforts.
HLB has decimated the Florida citrus industry, and Georgia growers are beginning to realize the threat in our state is real. HLB affects all citrus and its vector, the Asian citrus psyllid, can survive in Georgia’s colder weather climate.
Once a tree is infected, there is no cure for it. Spotting citrus greening disease early is critical. Rapid removal of infected trees is the only way to stop the spread of the bacteria responsible for the disease.
Although there is currently no infrastructure or established regulatory agency involvement in the removal of infested trees in Georgia, industry investors are pushing to see more from them in the future. In addition, growers should exercise extreme caution in selecting the origin of their trees and the condition/quality under which they are grown, being careful not to cross state lines without proper inspection and authority.
Lindy Savelle is president of the Georgia Citrus Association.
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