Evolving Research Priorities for Florida Citrus

Daniel CooperCRDF, Research

At the Florida Citrus Growers’ Institute, Rick Dantzler provided an overview of CRDF research-funding priorities.

Last week, growers convened in Avon Park for the annual Florida Citrus Growers’ Institute. The daylong seminar program provides updates on the latest research in the fight against HLB and other production issues facing growers.

Rick Dantzler, chief operating officer of the Citrus Research and Development Foundation (CRDF), presented an update on the organization’s research priorities. He noted that CRDF has a more limited research portfolio than in years past. That is due to less available funds and the state of the industry, which Dantzler said is in crisis.

“We believe we need something that can help reset the industry. Incremental benefits are not going to be enough to save the industry,” Dantzler said. “We are here and need to get to there. So how do we get there quickly? Speed is absolutely critical at this point.”

This urgency has caused CRDF to prioritize research into what Dantzler called a three-legged stool of funding. The first is funding projects aimed at maximizing the benefit of trunk-injection therapy. The second is seeking replacements for oxytetracycline (OTC) should that become necessary. The third is the long-term effort to find the “tree of the future” that has resistance to HLB.

Since OTC trunk-injection therapy is the biggest breakthrough in the battle against HLB, CRDF has funded 13 research projects in this area. The organization is currently funding 63 projects in total.

Some of the trunk-injection projects includes seeking a neutral pH solution to deliver OTC, evaluating different OTC rates and studying how OTC performs with other materials like peptides and plant growth regulators. Dantzler also noted research is being funded to see what, if any, effects OTC has on psyllids when they feed on treated trees. Earlier research indicated psyllids would not be affected by OTC sprayed on trees. But injections might provide different results.

“Wouldn’t it be something, if by injecting the OTC, it helped make the psyllids less hot (with HLB bacteria)? That is what we are pursuing, and the researchers are seeing some really interesting things,” said Dantzler.

When it comes to the longer-term goal of finding a resistant tree, Dantzler said CRDF is going down “every rabbit trail” possible when it comes to plant breeding. That includes molecular techniques, like CRISPR and GMO resistance, along with conventional breeding.

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