Citrus industry constructs HLB research center


riverside – Citrus growers from across the State gathered in Riverside Monday to celebrate the construction of a new facility dedicated solely to research on an incurable and fatal citrus tree disease.

The biosafety-level 3 plant facility is being built on the University of California, Riverside campus and will bring together the top experts in the world in the scientific areas of citrus pests, diseases and breeding, according to Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual (CCM). The facility will allow researchers to conduct more focused work on the deadly citrus disease Huanglongbing and Asian citrus psyllid (ACP), a carrier for the disease, that previously couldn’t be done in Southern California.

The event included a Save R’ Citrus launch ceremony and comments from CCM CEO Joel Nelsen, university officials and two congressmen. There will also be a tasting and tour of the university’s citrus variety collection.

HLB was first discovered in California in Hacienda Heights near San Gabriel in 2012. Since then, 21 trees in Southern California have tested positive for the disease. Psyllids often hitchhike on plant material being shipped from trees in Southern California to Tulare County, which is home to 71 packing houses and four juice plants.

The number of Asian citrus pysllid pests found in Tulare County has grown to 384, including 26 finds this year alone from various locations in Tulare, Lindsay, Elderwood, Porterville, Visalia, Terra Bella and Tipton.

Once a tree is infected with the bacterium that causes HLB, there is no cure. This poses a major threat to Tulare County’s billion-dollar citrus industry. Florida was the first state to detect the pest in 1998 and the disease in 2006. Florida citrus growers have been battling the disease for more than a decade, in which time more than 90% of trees have become infected with the disease known as citrus greening, for its discoloration of the fruit. The University of Florida estimates that the disease causes an average loss of 7,513 jobs per year, and has cost growers $2.994 billion in lost revenue.

The new research facility is being built by the newly formed California Citrus Research Foundation. The foundation was formerly organized on June 1 when benefactors, or their representatives, attended an organizational session to begin adding structure to the California Citrus Research Foundation. Benefactors affirmed the seven trustees and then designated officers for the Foundation.

Trustees and benefactors also received a progress report on the design, site purchase and development along with a proposed budget from the project development team. Meetings and discussions are scheduled with local authorities and USDA for certification purposes. The goal is now to schedule projects for insertion no later than June 2017.

CCM was empowered to draft by-laws with legal counsel, create a draft job description for the executive director, and retain a firm for development of letterhead and logo.

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