When commercial citrus acreage started migrating north some years ago, the big question was: To what extent would Asian citrus psyllids (ACP) and HLB migrate with the crop? With citrus getting well established in South Georgia, the pest and disease are there, but not yet at devastating levels like in Florida.
Johnathan Oliver, an assistant professor of fruit pathology with the University of Georgia (UGA), discussed the progression of psyllids and HLB in the state during the Southeast Regional Fruit & Vegetable Conference held in Savannah in January.
For the past several years, UGA Extension agents and officials from the Georgia Department of Agriculture have been monitoring for the ACP in 35 counties in southern Georgia. “They (ACP) have been found in all the coastal counties of Georgia and have been found at least once in Lowndes County. We don’t believe the ACP is widespread at this point, but it definitely is present in the state,” Oliver said.
Over the past three years, the team has been surveying citrus for HLB infection. That search has turned up 21 HLB-infected trees out of 1,100 trees tested. These positive hits came from 13 different locations in 11 counties.
“Prior to last year, almost all these positive trees found were in residential citrus. However, we have now identified at least 11 trees in commercial plantings,” Oliver said. “Just this past year (2022) in Grady, Pierce and Wayne counties, there have been commercial trees testing positive for HLB. But the percentage of infection in commercial groves remains very low.”
Oliver said growers have been responsive in quickly removing infected trees, which is key to keeping the disease at bay.
WHAT ABOUT THE FREEZES?
While Oliver’s presentation didn’t cover damage from the hard freeze that occurred over the Christmas weekend, it was a topic of much discussion in Savannah. Growers are still assessing the true fallout from that freeze and a second freeze that occurred in January. Some plantings saw significant damage, especially those that are less cold tolerant.
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