Citrus sales from a retail nursery near Webster, Texas were banned recently by the Texas Department of Agriculture after Huanglongbing (HLB) was confirmed in nursery stock, according to an article in the Houston Chronicle.
News that HLB, or citrus greening as it is commonly called, was found in a retail setting should open up the discussion about a disease that has California’s commercial citrus industry on edge and Florida’s citrus industry in sharp decline.
If nothing else, it suggests that inspectors need to continue looking across the retail and wholesale spectrum for this and other dangerous pests and diseases.
The find reveals that inspections work. Someone in Texas had the foresight to inspect at this location. Imagine the impact had the disease not been discovered and a homeowner planted a diseased tree?
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Inspections work. Just ask Napa County Agriculture Commissioner Greg Clark. He called me recently to report that his inspectors found Glassy-winged Sharpshooter (GWSS) egg masses in plants at a retail location.
Napa County is rightfully proud that it has managed to keep the GWSS from the county and impacting its prized wine grape industry.
“This proves our inspections work,” Clark told me.
While the discovery of an HLB-positive tree in a retail nursery could open a Pandora’s Box of negative publicity, it creates an opportunity for inventive communications efforts to draw consumers into discussions related to American food production.
Surveys suggest Americans still have a positive impression of their domestically-grown food supply. Why not couple that with other efforts to give consumers “ownership” of their food supply by helping them understand the connections between the scientific challenges farmers face and their food supply.
As one who has the privilege of viewing the Ag industry from the inside, I’ve seen countless examples of efforts under way to address issues talked about in mainstream media. For instance, food safety and quality was recently on the agenda at an almond industry meeting in Central California.
In one example, the almond industry wants to improve the shelf life of almonds and is working with the University of California to do just that. Alyson Mitchell, a food chemist and professor at UC Davis, talked in scientific detail about her work on what causes almonds to go rancid and ways to slow the process.
With respect to citrus greening, scientists are discovering hopeful leads in the battle to cure citrus trees of the deadly disease or at least slow the fatal results of HLB. While the public at large may not respond to detailed scientific explanations, that shouldn’t stop agriculture from helping consumers understand the connection between their food supply and the challenges facing production agriculture.
I believe the discovery of citrus greening in a retail nursery could effectively be used as a teaching opportunity. An open and honest conversation could go a long way to develop more agricultural allies.
So what? Why should I care?
Those are the questions agriculture needs to embrace and answer for consumers.