Finding new ways to combat this bacterial disease will be the focus of the alliance between Bayer and Florida-based Citrus Research and Development Foundation.
The key objective of the long-term research agreement is to discover new solutions to curb citrus greening as there is currently no effective treatment against the bacterium Candidatus liberibacter.
The bacterial disease attacks plants’ vascular system but does not pose a threat to humans or animals. The Asian citrus psyllid can spread the bacteria when the pest moves from one location to another, feeding on citrus trees and other plants.
Once a tree is infected there is no cure and it typically declines and dies within a few years.
Bayer says it will provide its extensive disease control know-how and coordinate public and private research to find novel solutions for the disease in Florida and in other key growing regions in the world.
The research will include identifying biological disease control solutions or molecules that modulate the plants’ innate immune defence system. Any potential treatment resulting from this research project would be further developed and commercialised by Bayer.
Citrus production in Florida has been particularly badly affected in recent years as the disease has ripped through crops in the state. Almost all commercial orchards in Florida are infected and show varying stages of decline. The only way to deal with it is to replace infected trees.
Florida produced 81.5 million boxes of oranges from 2015-2016 compared with 147 million boxes in 2005-2006 and 205 million boxes in 1995-1996, according to the Florida Department of Citrus.
“Without advanced tools to control citrus greening the citrus industry in Florida could be out of business within 10 to 15 years,” says Adrian Percy, head of research & development at the crop science division of Bayer.
“This research project will address key elements of a holistic agronomic solution for citrus growers to help battle this devastating disease.”
The project’s financing is being organised through CRDF and combines public money with contributions from citrus growers and the juice industry, including PepsiCo and the Coca-Cola Company.
“Anti-bacterial solutions are considered to be crucial by the industry to preserve citrus in Florida until disease-tolerant citrus trees will be available,” adds Harold Browning, COO of CRDF.
“This agreement is an important step to ensure the survival and competitiveness of Florida’s citrus growers through innovation.”
Also known as Huanglongbing (HLB) or yellow dragon disease, the bacterial plant disease was first discovered in China in 1919.