Huanglongbing (HLB), better known as citrus greening disease, is endemic in large parts of Asia and Africa and has now made an impact on the Americas. Since 2005, Texas has watched from afar as Florida struggled with citrus greening disease. We knew the devastation that this incurable tree disease could cause as it spreads very quickly, has a lengthy latency period and eventually kills the tree. The Texas citrus industry prepared as much as possible for this disease, but it was still a shock when the first tree was identified in San Juan, Texas with citrus greening disease on January 13, 2012. Citrus greening disease is an incurable citrus tree disease that is spread by a small insect, the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP). The only form of prevention for this disease is to treat against ACP. The industry and growers banded together to create an Area-Wide Management Program.
Prior to finding citrus greening in Texas, Industry leaders and the state of Texas recognized the potential for our industry to face this disease was very strong, given that ACP was already present in Texas. In 2009, The Texas Legislature, on the request from Industry leaders and growers alike, established a nonprofit corporation, The Texas Citrus Pest and Disease Management Corporation (TCPDMC). The statute gives the Commissioner of Agriculture the authority to recognize the Texas Citrus Pest and Disease Management Corporation to plan, carry out, and operate suppression programs to manage and control pests and diseases.
The mission of the Texas Citrus Pest and Disease Management Corporation, as declared in the Texas Agriculture Code §80.002, is to manage and control citrus pests and diseases in citrus plants in the state of Texas by planning, carrying-out and operating a suppression program while incorporating an area-wide, integrated pest management approach.
A referendum is a public vote on a particular issue. The importance of this vote is to allow citrus growers the ability to lead the efforts of a suppression program and drive the importance of the suppression of pests and diseases.
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In 2009, when the TCPDMC was voted into existence, it was to specifically focus on HLB and ACP. Over the past few years, the Mexican Fruit fly detections were rapidly increasing and quarantines were inhibiting grower’s abilities to sell their fruit. Growers requested that TCPDMC change its mission to include all major pests and diseases in its scope and in 2015 the Texas Legislature made this change to the statute. In October 2015, citrus canker was found on a residential lime tree in the Brownsville area. To date there have been 154 lime or lemon trees positively identified with citrus canker in the RGV and 2 trees in Houston. Citrus canker is a highly contagious bacterial disease that causes lesions on the leaves, stems and fruit of citrus trees. Citrus canker has not been found in South Texas since the 1940’s and it is imperative that TCPDMC works alongside TDA and USDA-APHIS in eradicating this disease before it is widespread.
PROPOSED ACP SUPPRESSION PROGRAM STRATEGY
The goal of the program is to slow down the spread of HLB within the Texas citrus industry’s production area through an all-inclusive effort at suppressing the insect that carries the disease, the Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP). Voluntary efforts at suppression over the last 6 years (2010 – present) have produced generally positive results but HLB incidence in both trees and ACP is now accelerating throughout the production area. The TCPDMC Board (comprised of 10 growers, 2 allied members, 1 pest management member, 1 agriculture lender and 1 entomologist) has determined it necessary to propose (via referendum) that an ACP suppression program be created to support this goal. If successful, this program will buy time for more permanent solutions to the HLB epidemic which may include transgenic varieties that are tolerant of or immune to infection. This is a matter of survival for the industry.
The suppression program itself will consist of a coordinated effort to mitigate the threat of HLB transmission to commercial citrus groves by:
1) Scouting for ACP in citrus groves
2) Using an ACP biocontrol approach in residential areas near citrus groves
The area that would be considered under this program would include Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy counties. This would be considered the pest management zone.
The pest management zone (Cameron, Hidalgo & Willacy Counties) is divided into 5 routes. One scout is assigned to each route totaling 5 scouts. The basic unit for reporting is a 2-week cycle. In each cycle, a scout will monitor approximately 125 groves per route for ACP presence using yellow-sticky traps for adult insects and visual observation for insect eggs and nymphs. These same groves will be scouted for 3 consecutive cycles (6 weeks) to determine whether ACP population levels are in compliance through the treatment program that each respective grower is employing at that moment.
REPORTING & NON-COMPLIANCE
Compliance is achieved in any individual grove by a finding of ACP population levels at or below a threshold of 10 adults and 0 eggs/nymphs per grove. If a grove stays at or below the accepted threshold for all 3 consecutive cycles, the grove is considered in compliance and monitoring is terminated after the end of the 3rd cycle.
If ACP population levels are above threshold (non- compliance) during any of the 3 consecutive cycles, as a first step at helping to improve the situation the TCPDMC will provide educational materials on suggested treatment programs to the affected grove owner and request that they arrange treatment for the grove as soon as possible. On the next scheduled visit (2 weeks later), if ACP levels remain out of compliance a certified letter will be sent to the grove owner requesting again that they treat for ACP. On the third visit (1 month after initial non-compliance), if ACP levels remain out of compliance the TCPDMC will initiate its own treatment of the grove as soon as possible. A follow-up visit will be conducted 1-2 weeks post-treatment to confirm that ACP levels are in compliance after which monitoring in that block will terminate.
It is anticipated that as part of this effort every managed grove will be monitored for at least 3 consecutive cycles per year, possibly more.
ADDITIONAL SCOUTING PROPOSED OUTSIDE COMPLIANCE
In addition to the suppression program, the TCPDMC proposes to continue providing an ACP monitoring service to interested growers. This effort would represent approximately one-third of the total scouting effort put forth by the TCPDMC in any given cycle.
Unlike the suppression program, service monitoring in these groves is every cycle, year-round and carries no burden of compliance on the grower’s part except in the 3 cycle minimum period each year when service monitoring and suppression overlap. Limit: 200 groves
PROPOSED ACP CONTROL IN RESIDENTIAL AREAS
Using approximately 2,500 sq. ft. of greenhouse space, the TCPDMC plans to produce a biological predator called Tamarixia radiata and release them in: A) Residential areas near conventionally-treated groves throughout the citrus production zone B) Organically-certified commercial groves throughout the citrus production zone C) Abandoned and smaller residential groves (not traditionally managed for ACP) In conjunction with their other assigned duties, releases will be conducted by scouting and field management personnel on a daily basis to ensure that a steady saturation of priority release points occurs throughout the growing season.
Among growers, TCPDMC will continue to promote strategic treatment of ACP in August (combined with major Rust mite treatment) and then again during the dormant season (mid-November thru mid-February) through mail outs and meetings.
Public Community Outreach will provide educational information to the general public through multiple outreach events throughout the production area. These activities will be done through grant funding and special project needs.