The Gulf Citrus Growers Association (GCGA) hosted a luncheon on Dec. 7 at the Southwest Florida Research and Education Center featuring a presentation by Tom Johnson, chief executive officer of TJ BioTech. The company is the manufacturer of ReMedium TI, the widely discussed formulation of oxytetracycline hydrochloride (OTC-HCI) that has shown promise as a treatment for HLB. The product is delivered via trunk injection.
This was the first presentation since the product received a special local needs registration from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumers Services that allows the OTC-HCI formulation to be applied to citrus in the state. With the registration, growers can begin applications of the product post-harvest this season.
Johnson said the company is in full commercialization mode and hopes to have product available for purchase by the end of December. Production of the trunk-injection device, called FlexInject, also is being ramped up.
“The vast majority of the parts and pieces of this trunk-injection device is being manufactured in Lake Wales, so this is something that is contributing to the local economy,” Johnson said. “We have about 35 people today assembling these devices. We are hoping to get 100,000 turned out before the first of January. As soon as we get 100,000 done, we have the materials in place to get the parts and the assembly process begins again.
“We will have enough product in the initial manufacturing run to treat 15% of the industry. It will be significant, and by the time we get through that 15%, we will have another batch ready to go.”
Johnson shared results of research the company has been conducting over the past few years. He said the most immediate benefit growers will observe is improved tree health and greater fruit retention. The data show about a 60% reduction in fruit drop after the first application.
“Stopping the fruit drop is probably the biggest economic benefit you will see in year one,” Johnson said. “When we start looking at the yield component, it is not uncommon to see a 30% to 35% yield benefit in year one and up to as high as 60% yield benefit in year two. There’s an awful lot of trees out there with a lot of fruit. We just can’t get them to harvest. That is the first problem we want to solve.”
Trees can be treated once per season after harvest and up to 180 days preharvest. This window is utilized to ensure no risk of residues in the fruit.
The injection process involves drilling a hole in the tree trunk above the soil line. The FlexInject applicator is then inserted into the hole. The tree will then uptake the OTC-HCI product into its vascular system. Then the device is moved to the next tree. Estimates suggest 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.
Johnson said growers will have to develop workflow approaches that optimize the application process on their farms. There are several grove care companies gearing up to offer trunk injection as a service.
Growers in attendance expressed concerns over the expense of the product, the application device and labor required. There have been some conversations about the development of potential cost-share opportunities to help growers defer expenses, but there’s nothing solid yet on that front.
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