A small amount of citrus greening disease (huanglongbing or HLB) can escalate quickly if growers are not careful. Jonathan Oliver, University of Georgia (UGA) assistant professor and small fruits pathologist, cautioned producers about the disease during the recent Georgia Citrus Association meeting.
“The issue is not widespread yet (in Georgia) for sure,” said Oliver. “We don’t think the vector is really prevalent here for the most part. It seems to be relatively isolated in the places that it’s found. But learning lessons from Florida and Brazil and all of the issues they’ve had over the last 15 years with greening lets us know that even a little bit can become a major problem.”
HLB was found in a grove in Grady County, Georgia earlier this year that led to the removal of almost 70 trees.
Oliver noted that older residential citrus trees that may not be maintained are an issue. “Maybe the trees have been completely neglected, and at some point, they may have been infected.”
Oliver and UGA Extension surveyed leaf samples in 24 coastal and southern Georgia counties from 2019 to 2022. Sixteen trees from 11 sites in 10 counties tested positive for HLB, with 13 being residential trees. The infected trees include kumquat, grapefruit, oranges, lemons and satsumas.
Growers planting new citrus trees should ensure they purchase certified trees if they are getting them from out of state, advised Oliver.
He stresses the importance of preventing the disease from becoming more prevalent in the South Georgia production area.
“Once it comes to a certain point, it becomes impossible to do much control. Then you have to think very seriously whether it’s economical to plant citrus, whether it’s economical to make the insecticide sprays that could help reduce the psyllid and whether you want to plant certain varieties that may be more tolerant,” Oliver said. “We’re not quite there yet. We can delay it as long as possible. I think the industry can still do well for years to come.”
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