Agents of Change Saving the Citrus Industry in Puerto Rico
Citrus greening (CG) disease was responsible for the loss of nearly half a million tons of citrus in the United States in 2017. CG is a bacterial disease transmitted by the Asian citrus psyllid. The bacteria establishes itself in the infected tree’s vascular system, disrupting the movement of nutrients from shoots to roots. The immediate results are green and bitter fruits unsuitable for the market; the disease eventually causes death of the tree. Researchers have developed and tested better management practices to treat the symptoms of CG, including nutritional sprays and screening for resistant varieties.
In Puerto Rico, the citrus industry is valued at $4.25 million. The first reports of CG disease in Puerto Rico came in 2009 and is spreading at an alarming rate. Puerto Rico’s Agricultural Extension Service is working closely with growers to help them adopt Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices to manage CG through hands-on training and the development of a demonstrational farm.
Extension specialists, including Fruit Specialist Jose Zamora, are providing workshops to test different fertilizers to identify the best treatment. In addition, they will use drones equipped with multispectral cameras to detect infection symptoms and crop damage.
In 2018, the Puerto Rico project held five workshops with field demonstrations. Thirty-eight citrus farmers, six extension agents, five USDA agronomists, four Natural Resources Conservation Service technicians, and four agronomists visiting from Italy received IPM training for CG management as well. Six farmers have already adopted some of the management practices on their farms.
NIFA supports this research and extension through the Crop Protection and Pest Management Program.
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