Bayer and the Citrus Research and Development Foundation (CRDF), a non-profit organization in Florida supporting citrus growers, have signed a research collaboration agreement to find solutions to Citrus Greening disease, which currently threatens the global citrus production and juice industry.
Currently no effective treatment against the bacterium Candidatus liberibacter, the causal agent of Citrus Greening, is available. Under the long-term research agreement, Bayer will provide access to its Disease Control know-how and will coordinate public and private research to find novel solutions for Citrus Greening in Florida and beyond.
CRDF is organizing the financing of this project, combining public funds with contributions from the citrus growers and the juice industry. The partnership is financially supported by PepsiCo and The Coca-Cola Company, two leaders in the juice industry.
The research activities will focus on a broad set of possible tools against Citrus Greening, mainly to identify biological disease control solutions or molecules that modulate the plants’ innate immune defense system.
The objective of this joint effort is to discover one or more solutions that would be available to Florida citrus growers as soon as possible. Any potential treatment resulting from this research project would be further developed and commercialized by Bayer.
Florida is the second-largest producer of orange juice globally and is seeing rapid decline in production due to the disease. According to the Florida Department of Citrus, from 2015-2016, Florida produced just 81.5 million boxes of oranges, compared with 147 million boxes in 2005-2006, and 205 million boxes in 1995-1996.
“Without advanced tools to control Citrus Greening, the citrus industry in Florida could be out of business within 10 to 15 years,” said 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.”
Harold Browning, COO of CRDF, added: “Anti-bacterial solutions are considered to be crucial by the industry to preserve citrus in Florida until disease-tolerant citrus trees will be available. This agreement is an important step to ensure the survival and competitiveness of Florida´s citrus growers through innovation.”
Citrus Greening, also known as Huanglongbing (HLB) or yellow dragon disease, is a bacterial plant disease that was first discovered in China in 1919. Citrus Greening induces dramatic decline of tree health and productivity within five years. It is spread by an insect called the Asian citrus psyllid.
Psyllids are highly reproductive and difficult to control by means of classical pest control products. Meanwhile nearly 100 percent of commercial orchards in Florida are infected with the disease and are exhibiting varying stages of decline. The only mitigation strategy remaining for citrus growers in Florida is to replace infected trees to stay in business.