Water, HLB key topics at California citrus show

A panel of executives from four California citrus packinghouses drew a record crowd to the 2017 Citrus Showcase in Visalia, Calif.

The March 2 panel luncheon sold out, with about 800 people in attendance. Speakers were David Krause, president of Delano, Calif.-based Wonderful Citrus; Berne Evans, CEO of Pasadena, Calif.-based Sun Pacific; Jim Marderosian, president of Fowler, Calif.-based Bee Sweet Citrus; and Russ Hanlin, CEO of Valencia, Calif.-based Sunkist Growers.

"It's not very often that you get those four individuals in a room together, let alone sharing a stage, so that was a huge draw," said Alyssa Houtby, director of public affairs at Exeter, Calif.-based California Citrus Mutual, which organized the showcase.

The panelists agreed that water is the biggest challenge facing their industry. Another concern is huanglongbing, the citrus greening disease that has severely harmed the Florida citrus industry.

No HLB-positive trees have been found in commercial groves in California, but 38 infected trees have been found in backyards in more urban areas, Houtby said. Two of the five workshops at the citrus showcase revolved around fighting HLB, mainly through controlling the Asian citrus psyllid, the insect that spreads the disease.

Workshops focused on the best treatments for the Asian citrus psyllid using a coordinated area-wide program, Houtby said.

"We also discussed new regulations that our industry advisory committee and the California Department of Food and Agriculture approved that have to do with tarping every load of citrus that leaves the field and then goes to the packinghouse," she said.

"In addition to that, we're looking at changing our quarantine boundaries and the requirements for moving fruit between those quarantine boundaries," Houtby said, "so we had a great demonstration by a researcher who is looking at some in-field treatments on the truck that we can do to kill any (Asian citrus psyllid) that might be on that load."

Houtby said the California industry coordinates with the Florida industry on work targeting HLB on the federal level and the grower level.

"We frequently host Florida citrus growers in California, and we're actually sending a delegation of growers in California to Florida for the International Resource Conference on (Huanglongbing)," Houtby said. That conference is March 14-17.

In addition to the lunch event and the workshops, the 2017 Citrus Showcase included a display of new varieties. The most desirable characteristics echoed the list of challenges for growers.

The Citrus Research Board is focusing on HLB-resistant varieties, said Carolina Evangelo, director of communications for the Visalia-based board.

"And of course, with the current water situation in the state of California, growers are always looking for varieties that are more efficient with water, and they're also looking for varieties that mature earlier and have a quicker return on investment," Evangelo said, "and so those are the types of varieties that researchers kind of put at the top of their list to work on."

About 1,500 people attended the overall showcase, which included 120 booths, an increase from 90 or so in previous years.