Vero Beach, Fl.-based Premier Citrus is forming a new company, Premier Citrus ApZ LLC, which will develop a new technology to boost the delivery and effectiveness chemicals to offset greening, which can seriously damage a citrus tree and the fruit it produces. An infected tree still produces fruit but as the seasons go on, produces less and less fruit until none can be commercially harvested. “Right now there are no good anti-greening practices or solutions,” says Tom Jerkins, president of Premier Citrus. “There are some emergency antibiotics approved on a year-to-year basis, but even those have trouble getting into the plant and becoming systemic.”
Roll out plans
Heading up ApZ LLC is Harold Browning of the Citrus Research and Development Foundation. ApZ will further develop the technology, called ‘laser ablation’, to take it from the lab to the field. Premier, which has been using ablation since August and now holds the technology’s intellectual property rights, hopes to have the ablation offered in limited availability by the end of 2018 and wide availability by 2020.
Laser ablation, developed by laser researcher Greg Drouillard, has been used in surgical medicine for decades. It involves making small notches on the trees that’s quickly followed by an anti-bacterial chemical spray. The notches help the chemical spread quicker into the phloem, the tree’s vascular system, to kill the bacteria.
Part of the solution
Premier sees it as a solution gap of sorts. “We anticipate at least a ten year gap--likely more--between now and the fruit coming off new tolerant varieties, so this is critical to maintaining continuity of fruit supplies and quality until that time,” says Jerkins.
As the technology develops, Premier believes that growers will need to purchase smaller quantities of the chemicals involved (and needing to spray them less often—approximately six to eight times per year) because of the efficient distribution system. There are also potential other technology applications including nutritional sprays, pesticides and more. But what’s not yet determined is the cost to the grower. “We hope grower costs will be about neutral to conventional spraying. We don’t know yet for sure, but that is the goal,” says Jerkins.
Watching and waiting
Until then, Premier also continues to watch closely the development happening in its own groves. “We’ve seen greatly enhanced systemic movement of many compounds in our groves,” says Jerkins. “We have not yet had enough time to observe tree recovery, but that seems very likely to follow. It takes some time to rebuild the phloem tissue that’s causing the tree decline.”
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