A highly contagious disease is now affecting the South, and if the problem isn’t controlled soon the citrus industry could be completely wiped out.
The disease, called citrus greening, is transported by the Asian citrus psyllid, and the effects are deadly to any citrus tree it bites.
“It’s a bacterial plant pathogen that gets into the water conducting tissue of the citrus plant and it blocks it up so no water and nutrients can pass by,” Dr. Kassie Conner, director of the Plant Diagnostic Lab at Auburn University, told WLTZ First News.
To date, the disease has wiped out the majority of citrus trees in Florida. According to Dr. Conner, the citrus production in Florida has already decreased by 70 percent, and the disease could potentially wipe out the citrus industry completely.
“We knew this would happen one day, we were just trying to prolong it as long as we could,” Gary Underwood, owner of Underwood Pecan & Citrus Nursery, told WLTZ First News. “It’s happened in Mississippi, South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, we were the only ones to keep it out of our state until now. They said in 10 years there will be no more citrus left in Florida. Most likely it’s that devastating.”
Currently, Alabama is under a quarantine, and Dr. Conner says that homeowners can play a large part in helping prevent the spread of the disease from tree to tree by purchasing citrus trees from Alabama growers and knowing how to care for them once they are purchased.
“They are not maintenance free and people think they are, and we tell them you need to spray them and they go home and never spray them and that’s where all the disease has started from,” Dr. Conner told WLTZ First News.
Workshops and meetings will be set up by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System to reach out to and educate homeowners on the disease and what they can do to help prevent bringing it into the state.
“It’s a very big deal,” Dr. Conner told WLTZ First News. “Our citrus growers would appreciate help from homeowners to keep them safe and keep them from getting the disease because it will completely wipe out their entire orchard.”
When checking citrus trees, pay close attention to the foliage. If there is a mix of yellow and green foliage present, fruits are green, misshapen or bitter or if the tree begins to die back, call the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries immediately.
If you or your customers suspect the disease is present on citrus trees in the area, contact the Plant Protection Quarantine unit so the tree can be inspected. The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries will collect samples from the tree and run diagnostic tests on it to determine if it carries the disease.
If the tree tests positive, it will be treated, cut down and taken to a landfill. One week later, the stump will also be treated to ensure it doesn’t regrow. The disease is not harmful to humans or animals.