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Organic Solutions for Citrus Greening

Jun 24, 2014

cut oranges and juice in glass

Citrus greening, or Huanglongbing, threatens the citrus industry on a massive scale. It has devastated millions of acres of citrus crops throughout the United States and abroad, ravaging countries in Asia, Africa, and South America. The highly destructive disease can spread quickly, and once a tree is infected, it cannot be cured.

Currently, the most common method for controlling citrus greening is by spraying large amounts of synthetic pesticides such as neonicotinoids. These toxic sprays have had only limited success, and have been responsible for large-scale bee die-offs. Other non-organic research has focused on creating GMO varieties of citrus trees resistant to citrus greening.

Additionally, conventional strategies have not yet proven effective and have contributed to policy decisions that are not compatible with organic management. For example, applications of synthetic pesticides have been mandated as an eradication method in California citrus groves, including certified organic groves, in regions where the psyllid has been detected, but no organic alternatives have been offered as substitutes for these mandatory spray regimes.

Organic citrus growers need ways to control this devastating disease without the use of dangerous chemicals or genetic engineering. However, there is little research examining organically compliant methods for controlling citrus greening. To address this issue, The Organic Center has launched a multi-year research project in collaboration with university researchers, citrus growers, and other non-profits to find holistic organic solutions to controlling citrus greening organically.

Current Research

The Organic Center is collaborating with USDA, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists, Dr. Kim Bowman and Ellen Cochrane to develop a farmer friendly report that consolidates existing literature on allowable methods for combating citrus greening in organic groves. It will detail science-based best practices for organic citrus growers and will be published and distributed, free of charge, to organic citrus growers across the U.S.

Providing farmers with science based recommendations and best practices for the control of citrus greening is of critical importance for organic citrus producers in all citrus producing regions of the US. Organic citrus growers are prohibited from using antibiotics, synthetic pesticides, mineral fertilizers and genetically engineered citrus varieties, leaving them with few, poorly tested options for protecting their groves. While research specifically targeted at investigating control of citrus greening in organic systems is very limited, numerous and diverse studies have included methods that potentially could be incorporated into organic protocols. Unfortunately, studies that include organic compliant methods are almost always conducted in non-organic settings and in combination with treatments prohibited by the organic standards.  As a result, this information is not easily accessible to organic farmers and educators without significant effort to find and extract useful information embedded in larger studies. This project mines the existing body of scientific literature devoted to citrus greening, compiles relevant results and synthesizes them to create a farmer/nurseryman-focused document that details organic compliant practices for combating citrus greening disease and the Asian citrus psyllid vector.

groveOngoing Research

The Organic Center is working with researchers at the University of Florida to conduct research that will look at:

  • Organic methods for controlling the Asian citrus psyllid, the tiny insect which spreads citrus greening disease, without the use of toxic chemicals
  • Organic antimicrobials for combating the bacteria that causes citrus greening disease

This information will be critical for providing growers around the country with the information they need to protect their citrus groves from collapse due to citrus greening. We hope that our findings will be useful to organic and conventional growers alike!  It will also be useful for policymakers in incorporating organic alternatives to Asian citrus psyllid control into area-wide treatment protocols. If it is not stopped, citrus greening may remove organic citrus from our diets, destroy countless farms, and significantly disrupt regional economies. Without further research on organic methods for controlling the disease, the entire domestic organic citrus sector may be wiped out.

Grower Involvement

This project has involved growers during focus development, and continued to do so throughout the project.  The site (40 acres of certified organic Valencias) is owned by Mr. Jim Lee and managed by Uncle Matt’s Organic (UMO).  Both Mr. Lee and the Uncle Matt’s Organic Production team met to discuss the need for enhanced Psyllid control studies to increase the organic citrus grower’s overall knowledge about organic management tools for surviving with HLB.  It was agreed that this site would serve as an experimental grove to determine Psyllid control efficacy, using biological control, adjuvants, and botanical oils, essentially representing one product each from the “full toolbox” of control options.  All of the individuals and groups involved were eager to interact and obtain strategies to successfully produce organic citrus within HLB positive groves.

Latest News

Crowdfunding Campaign a success!

The Organic Center concluded a successful Crowdfunding Campaign, and exceeded its crowdfunding goal of $15,000, reaching a total of $20,417.  The campaign was so compelling that A&E Television Network funded it, choosing it from among thousands of other crowdfunding campaigns.

Farmer Presentations

The Organic Center has been invited to give presentations at several industry and farmer events around the country.  For example, we provided and in-depth presentation at the 2017 EcoFarm Conference in Ascilomar, CA; the 2017 Organic Food and Farming Summit in Gainesville, FL; the 2017 Biocontrols Conference in Orlando, FL; and the 2016 OTA Policy Conference in Washington, D.C.

Media Coverage

Read some of the stories that feature our work:

Policy Makers

The Organic Center conducted a briefing for congress, which was well attended and generated substantial interest from policy makers.  Staff members from several U.S. congressional offices gathered to hear the Organic Center’s progress on finding safe and effective ways to fight off citrus greening disease without the use of dangerous synthetic pesticides, and how their districts were impacted by the threat of the disease.

 

 

 

 

 

Citrus Research
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