New Year Sales? Be cautious.

It can be all too easy to end up with an empty wallet and a garden filled with struggling, diseased or even dead plants with fantastic price tags.

Perhaps there is more behind that price tag than meets the eye. Huanglongbing!

Huanglongbing (HLB) is an extremely destructive and lethal disease of citrus worldwide, presumably caused by phloem-limited bacteria, Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus (CLas).  The bacteria is spread by a tiny insect called the Asian Citrus Psyllid. Three different types of HLB are currently known: The heat-tolerant Asian form, and the heat-sensitive African and American forms. 

The lethal disease has caused outrage in the United States of America. Although HLB has not been detected yet in mainland Europe (Cocuzza et al., 2017), the mere presence of the psyllid is a major threat for the Mediterranean citrus industry. As an example of the economic impact of HLB, this disease caused losses of 4,554 million US dollars and more than 8,000 jobs directly or indirectly linked to the Florida citrus industry between 2005 and 2011 in the USA (Hodges and Spreen 2012). The rapid increase in this disease has threatened the citrus industry not only in Florida, but the entire United States of America. As of 2009, 33 countries have reported HLB infection in their citrus crop.

The large scale magnitude can be devastating. Major citrus-producing states in the United States are Florida, California, Arizona, and Texas; smaller quantities of citrus are grown in other Sunbelt states and in Hawaii. During the 2016–2017 season in the United States, citrus was grown on 711,000 acres (288,000 hectares) with a total fruit yield of 7.8 million tons. Approximately half of the U.S. citrus produced is sold fresh, and the remainder is sold processed, mostly as juice, with California producing 85% of the fresh and Florida 77% of the processed citrus (USDA NASS, 2017).

The two basic management strategies for any vector-borne pathogen transmitted in a circulative manner are (1) to reduce the number of vectors available to transmit the pathogen and (2) to reduce the amount of inoculum available to the vectors. While considerable effort has gone into controlling and managing HLB it seems that less effort has been devoted to the removal of inoculum sources, for example; infected citrus trees.

Even though research indicates that removal of infected trees can slow the disease you would believe it would be of paramount importance to suppliers and sellers to offer disease free citrus trees. When you see those New Year Sales, fantastic price tag for a citrus tree – when something is to good to be true it generally is! It could well be they are preparing for the Huanglongbing quarantine or already infected.

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