Greening/Canker Resistant Trees to Be Field Tested at So Gardens

Gary Cooper Citrus, Florida

This release from U S Sugar/Southern Gardens CitrusClewiston, FL, Dec 4, 2008:
As part of its proactive program to deal with disease, Southern Gardens Citrus announced its plans to plant and field test canker and greening disease-resistant citrus trees in its groves starting in early 2009. Huanglongbing or citrus greening disease (HLB) is considered to be the most serious disease of citrus anywhere it occurs in the world. HLB was first identified and confirmed in Florida in September 2005. Three years later, HLB now can be found in all Florida counties were citrus is grown commercially.
Southern Gardens Citrus (SGC), one of the largest citrus producers in the state, has three groves in southwest Florida, all of which are infected to some extent with HLB. As a result, SGC Citrus has been and continues to be very proactive in addressing and dealing with this very serious disease.
Rick Kress, president of Southern Gardens Citrus, stated that “since this disease was first detected in the company’s groves in 2005, the immediate decision was to become as proactive as possible to learn about the disease and at the same time, develop methods and procedures to deal with the disease on a day to day basis.”

Given the current lack of successful control programs for this world-wide disease and a general lack of basic knowledge of the pathogen and its insect vector, SGC has instigated and participated in a wide variety of research projects intended to develop environmentally and scientifically proven methods to manage and control the disease. Southern Gardens is currently working with several groups including UF/IFAS, USDA, FDACS, and other universities and independent researchers to achieve this goal.

As a part of this total research portfolio, SGC is participating in and sponsoring multiple projects to develop disease-resistant citrus trees. These ongoing projects were initiated in early 2007. Based on the initial positive results from projects with researchers from Texas A & M AgriLife and a private Florida based company, Integrated Plant Genetics where disease resistance has been achieved in the laboratory, the first generation of potentially disease-resistant citrus trees arising from these two projects have been produced and are ready to be field tested. Given initial successful results in the laboratory, SGC has applied for and received a permit from the United States Department of Agriculture Biotechnology Regulatory Services for one of the projects allowing the field testing of the plants generated by this research. It is expected that a second application will be made in the near future to field test the trees from the second project.

Kress said the first potentially disease-resistant trees will be planted in early 2009 in small plots to determine if the improved trees are indeed resistant to canker and greening. It is anticipated that this initial trial will one of several that will be implemented in the immediate and near future by Southern Gardens Citrus.

“A final solution for eliminating this disease could take years but the upcoming field trial work and continuation of the research projects are a major step in the right direction,” Kress said.