No doubt about it, 2020 is going down in the history books as one of the worst years of our time. But it hasn’t been all bad. In fact, if you are a citrus producer, you might see 2020 as a banner year – the year we turned the corner on the blight of HLB.
HLB, which is short for Huanglongbing, is also known as Citrus greening disease. It has devastated citrus orchards around the world. It doesn’t just attack the crop, it kills the tree, and there is no cure for it. Over the years, we’ve learned that the disease seems to be a bacteria carried by the Asian Citrus Psyllid, a tiny insect that is hard to detect and hard to kill off. It has stymied scientists around the world for decades. Finally, this year, it looks like our scientists have found the answer to a citrus grower’s prayers.
Scientists at the University of California Riverside announced that they have identified a peptide, found in an Australian finger lime tree, that seems tp clear HLB out of the tree. This means that this peptide can prevent infection in new trees, treat existing infection in established trees, and help keep trees healthy through their productive years. The peptide can be commercially produced and injected into nursery stock as well as actively producing citrus trees to control HLB or to restore yields and overall tree health.
And there’s more. Our UC Riverside scientists are following up on the finger lime trees and other citrus varieties from Australia. They want to see if they can breed new hybrids that are HLB resistant but grow existing varieties that are popular in the market.
As exciting as this new peptide from finger limes is, our scientists are not putting all their eggs in one basket. A team led by the UC with researchers around the world are investigating the role of soil and root microbes in the disease.
So yes, 2020 was the stuff of nightmares, but it may turn out to also be the year that saved the citrus industry.
About the Author
Len Wilcox is a retired scientist who also ran a newspaper and has written for agricultural publications since the 1980s. He was a regular contributor to California Farmer Magazine. His commentary “The Western View” is a regular feature on Farm City Newsday and AgNet West.