Can Western citrus industry survive HLB war?

If you heard your most feared nemesis knocking on your door…would you open it? Probably not.

If you are a California or Arizona (Western) commercial citrus grower, this is a moot point. Your worst nemesis may kick your door open anyway.

For about a decade, the Western citrus industry has watched from afar as the once little known insect - the Asian citrus psyllid – slowly elevated itself to citrus-nightmare status in commercial citrus groves worldwide.

The tiny insect transports the Candidatus Liberibacter spp. bacterium to citrus trees which causes the deadly disease Huanglongbing. Every place in the world the insect is found then HLB eventually follows. Every HLB-infected citrus tree in the world has died – no exceptions.  

The latency period between the bacterial infection and visual disease symptoms on the tree is several years which aids in the HLB spread to other trees. By the time a grower finds the disease, the disease has already spread.

HLB has economically devastated growers, packers, and others globally. In Florida, the disease has its noose around commercial citrus groves statewide. It is an ongoing economic battle for growers to remain in business.  

News in recent weeks of multiple psyllid finds, including nymphs, in Tulare County, Calif. is a bellwether that the ‘chaff’ is about to hit the fan. The western citrus industry is inching closer to war – Western Citrus vs. HLB. It’s just a matter of time before HLB raises its ugly head in commercial groves.

The odds are better than a Royal Flush card hand in Las Vegas that HLB is already in California groves. In low-desert grown citrus in Imperial County, Calif. and Arizona, the question is can HLB exist and thrive in 115-degree summer heat? That is a question that only time will answer.

The HLB war will be fought one tree at a time – and one grove at a time - using the tools learned from other HLB battlegrounds and state-of-the-art technology.

Can California citrus defeat the HLB villain? I hope so. Battles will likely be won and lost. Every grower must give 100 percent to the effort. The citrus industry – with its arsenal of forward planning and technology - will give the disease a run for the money.

I pray the citrus industry will defeat its top nemesis and win the war. Perhaps we’ll witness a modern-day version of the Biblical account of David and Goliath.

It's time to roll up the sleeves and collect a huge pile of stones.

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