TWO CITRUS GROWERS FIND PSYLLID SOLUTION
By Anita Todd Before 2005, most Floridians had never heard of citrus greening. Now, the deadly disease has reduced the number of citrus growers from 8,000 to 3,800.
grower. “They are doing all they can but, in the meantime, the citrus industry is dying. We wanted to let the industry breathe - hit the stop button.”
The reminders of what has happened can be seen around Polk County from the abandoned groves filled with dead orange trees to the shiny, new housing developments.
So, Thompson called his buddy, Thayer, a second-generation citrus grower and nurseryman, with the idea to “tent” new trees with a material that the psyllid can’t get through. The fabric is the standard and industry-approved 50-mesh screening product used in plant nurseries and greenhouses. The fine weave of the screen provides protection against insects — including the Asian citrus psyllid — yet the screen is permeable enough to allow for sunlight, air flow, and the application of chemical sprays.
But, along those same back roads, where many growers have given up, are the groves of the tenacious others who refuse to. And, some of those remaining have dressed up the young trees with a commonsense solution to the disease: The Tree Defender created by Thomas Thayer and Scott Thompson in Dundee. The Tree Defender is a protective, breathable screen placed over individual young trees to protect them from the Asian citrus psyllid, the insect that causes greening or Huanglongbing (HLB). After four years, an enormous amount of testing, and trial and error, the men responsible for taking the fight against psyllids and greening into their own hands, are on to something.
“For years now, the best scientists have had a lot of bright ideas that a lot of money has been thrown at but there is still no relief,” Thompson said. He is a third-generation citrus
“We wanted our product to be practical, economical, sustainable and effective,” Thompson said. Expensive, excessive pesticide spraying – sometimes twice a month – against the psyllid was something most growers had resorted to. A normal spray schedule pre-HLB for processed oranges is about three to four times annually. “Growers tried to out spray and out plant, but it didn’t work,” he said. The design has changed and improved since its inception just five years ago thanks to research and trial and error. WWW.INTHEFIELDMAGAZINE.COM