The recent Florida Citrus Industry Annual Conference featured educational presentations on navigating production in an environment where HLB is endemic in groves. Two of those presentations focused on new technology being developed for use in citrus.
Two companies, Elemental Enzymes and TJ BioTech, have been collaborating with the Citrus Research and Development Foundation (CRDF) to research their respective products’ potential to fight HLB.
Brian Thompson, chief executive officer of Elemental Enzymes, spoke about the company’s product Aura Citrus. The product is based on a peptide (called Vismax by the company). It is derived from Bacillus thuringiensis. Thompson said the product activates a plant’s immune system and has indirect activity on fungal and bacterial pathogens. The company is aiming that activity at the HLB bacteria.
Elemental Enzymes has been researching the product’s usage in citrus since 2016 and has been collaborating with CRDF since 2017. This past season, more than 35 field trials were conducted in Florida.
Trials have shown a single application of the product during the spring flush reduces the HLB bacteria in trees, improves canopy, increases yield and improves fruit quality. Across the Florida trials, Thompson said trees treated with Aura Citrus had an average 12% increase in yields.
“We are in the late stages of registration with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),” Thompson said. “We look forward to bringing this product to citrus growers.”
Research on injecting citrus trees with antimicrobial materials has been the buzz lately. Josh Steinbronn from TJ BioTech spoke about ReMedium TI, which is a patent-pending formulation of oxytetracycline (OTC). He also discussed FLexInject, the device that is utilized to inject the OTC into trees.
Labor required to inject trees has been a concern. Steinbronn gave a conservative estimate that a single worker can inject about 250 bearing citrus trees in a nine-hour day. For non-bearing citrus, that number is about 350 trees.
Field trials have shown the injections have improved tree health and biomass. Fruit drop was reduced by as much as 60%.
Steinbronn said the company anticipates EPA registration of the OTC product in late fall of this year.
“When we have registration, TJ BioTech is prepared for full commercial launch in Florida citrus,” he said. “Applications can begin post-harvest of the 2022–23 citrus season.”
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