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Citrus Research Board celebrates 50th anniversary protecting golden crop

Citrus Research Board celebrates 50th anniversary protecting golden crop

CRB holds California Citrus Conference Oct. 10 at the Wyndham Hotel in Visalia

By Reggie Ellis
@Reggie_SGN

VISALIA – The entire citrus industry will gather in Visalia next Wednesday to hear from ag scientists and researchers working to solve the greatest challenges facing one of California’s most important crops. It will also mark the 50th anniversary of the organization charged with protecting California citrus from invasive pests and devastating diseases.

The Citrus Research Board (CRB) will hold its 2018 California Citrus Conference Oct. 10 at the Wyndham Hotel in Visalia.

The free event will once again bring together a who’s who of citrus research, including those on the front lines to combat the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP) and the fatal tree disease that it carries, huanglongbing (HLB).

“Once again, we are delighted to showcase the best of the best CRB-funded research at this year’s conference,” said CRB Chairman Dan Dreyer. “We are proud to offer this opportunity for people in the citrus industry to network, learn about critical citrus research developments and hear updates from industry partners.”

Some of this year’s speakers include Michelle Heck, Ph.D., a research molecular biologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-Agricultural Research Service in Ithaca, NY who will speak about psyllid bacteria; Tim Eyrich, vice president of research at Southern Gardens Citrus in West Palm Beach, Fla., who will report on the latest research in the fight against HLB; and Silvio A. Lopes, Ph.D., who works in Research and Development at Fundecitrus – Fundo de Defesada Citricultura in São Paulo, Brazil, will discuss the management and impact of ACP/HLB in Brazil and how California growers can learn and benefit from Brazilian research and experiences. Another one of the speakers Joel Nelsen, president of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, told the CRB’s publication Citrograph that the bonds between his advocacy and policy group and the Citrus Research Board have grown stronger in the past decades as growers recognized they had two tools that could work together to enhance their future even in the face of HLB.

“Research detailing the costs of doing business, our economic impact and production costs are vital components for addressing challenges,” he said. “Our ACP/HLB Advisory Committee is a prime example. The combined focus on grower needs – such as finding a cure, early detection tools and using vital federal research dollars in conjunction with operations to find the bug and the disease before it finds the commercial industry – is a prime example.”

Integrated pest management (IPM) strategy projects have been supported by CRB since its inception. In 1968, CRB was already funding projects to control the White Fly and Wooly White Fly with both chemical and biological control methods. In the 1970s CRB research developed a pheromone trap for red scale. In 1982 the fungicide imazalil was registered based on CRB-funded research.

“There’s a lot more high-tech science now,” said James Gorden, past CRB chairman and CRB diagnostic laboratory technical advisory committee chair. “We had to re-educate ourselves as we became more heavily engaged in science.” He recalled the first CRB meeting he attended in the early 1970s. “I was just kind of a young whippersnapper,” he said, describing those years as “a fond memory,” even if he can’t recall much about the business conducted at those meetings. “It was an opportunity to interact with leaders in the industry at that time.”

In the early ’80s CRB began funding practical projects in entomology led by Beth Grafton-Cardwell, Ph.D., and Joseph Morse, Ph.D. Grafton-Cardwell has spent the last 28 years studying invasive pest and disease issues affecting the citrus industry. Since 2006, she has served as director of the Lindcove Research and Extension Center in Exeter where CRB has provided most of the funding for her work.

“The Board has been incredibly supportive,” she said. “They have supplied state-of-the-art facilities and equipment for all the research here.” She also noted the CRB-funded lab for fruit quality research, as well as the construction of screenhouses. “It’s been an absolute pleasure working with the Citrus Research Board, and we have a fantastic relationship,” she added.

John Kirkpatrick, past CRB chairman and a citrus grower, told Citrograph that he joined the CRB in the early 1980s because “it provided me and those who served with me on the board with insight into the cutting edge of agronomic technology as it relates to the citrus industry. You were right there – and that’s kind of exciting. “I of agronomic technology as it relates to the citrus industry. You were right there – and that’s kind of exciting. “I always enjoyed the drives to Riverside with other members.”

In the 1990s CRB worked on protecting citrus from glassy winged sharpshooter, which now primarily effects grapes and not citrus. In the 2000s, CRB-funded research on Septoria spot helped to keep the Korean trade market open and research on Phytophthora to keep the China market open. The two countries continue to be the most important markets for citrus, particularly Tulare County citrus, today.

“They’ve addressed the issues that have been facing the industry and as the issues changed, their focus has changed,” said Philip LoBue, President of LoBue Packing House in Exeter, referring to export issues. “That’s where I have spent most of my time,” he said. “As a packinghouse manager, those were the issues in front of me.”

Visalia is the third home of the CRB headquarters. CRB was established in Los Angeles in 1968 before moving to Newhall/Valencia in 1990. CRB didn’t move to its current home at 217 N. Encina St. in Visalia on April 1, 1994, the same year the organization celebrated its 25th anniversary.

Over the last two decades, CRB has been diligently working to prevent the spread of the most dangerous citrus pest, the Asian citrus psyllid, which carries the deadly disease huanglongbing (HLB), better known as citrus greening. Just one year after HLB was first discovered in Florida, CRB funded its first research project studying the fatal tree disease. Since 2016, nearly 75 percent of the CRB’s budget has been spent on HLB and Asian citrus psyllid (ACP) research.

Gary Shultz, president of the Citrus Research Board said he believes CRB will find a cure to the proliferation of the Asian citrus psyllid and the epidemic of the fatal tree disease known as huanglongbing (HLB). The current struggle against the onslaught of this pest reminded him of a quote from Winston Churchill, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Schultz added, “Fifty years from now, we will look back at this time and say, ‘We did it because we didn’t give up. We didn’t give in. We used the ideas of the best and brightest in our industry, and we found the solution to HLB that kept us profitable and sustainable for years to come.’”

Churchill also said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Schultz concluded, “The California citrus industry is an optimistic bunch. Here’s to another 50 years of success.”

The conference opens at 7 a.m. with a complimentary breakfast and concludes at 5 p.m. with the announcement of the winners for giveaway prizes. The Wyndham Visalia, located at 9000 W. Airport Drive in Visalia, also served as the site of the successful 2017 California Citrus Conference. Although the conference is a free event, registration is recommended. To register or to obtain more information about the conference, please visit www.citrusresearch.org.

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