HLB has yet to become a major problem for Georgia’s citrus producers. Jonathan Oliver, University of Georgia assistant professor and small fruits pathologist, attributes the disease’s lack of presence in Georgia’s commercial groves to multiple factors.
“It still comes down to the fact that, number one, you don’t see symptoms for a while. A lot of our trees are young,” Oliver says. “Number two, even though we have a lot more acreage, they’re not big, contiguous plantings. They’re a lot smaller plantings here and there. The (Asian citrus) psyllid, which has to reproduce and spread from site to site, may not be able to easily move to spread the disease around. The psyllid may not be surviving quite as well, in some years at least, when we have real strong cold spells. It’s just not continuing to build up in some places, so that’s probably helping us a little bit.”
According to Oliver, HLB has been found in 13 counties in Georgia, though mostly in residential trees. That’s in stark contrast to trees in Florida where HLB has infected more than 80% of the state’s trees. The disease has caused $4.5 billion in lost citrus production, according to Oliver. He’s hoping that type of impact can be prevented in Georgia.
“We’re still kind of in the early stages of our industry. It still remains to be seen if we’ll be able to keep it out to a large degree or not. So far, most of the (HLB-positive) trees we’ve found have been homeowner, residential trees,” Oliver says. “They’re trees that have been here longer. They may not have been well maintained. We don’t know if it’s a sign of things to come that it’s in residential trees or if that’s just an exception.”
Oliver points out that a lot of Georgia’s groves are young, and HLB symptoms often aren’t seen until two to three years after infection. “A lot of our groves are less than five years old, and we might not have seen it in some of them because of the age of the groves,” he says.
The best HLB management tactic for growers is to prevent establishment of the disease, advises Oliver. Growers should not move plants from infested areas. They also should not purchase trees from infested states unless the materials are from a U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified vendor.
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