Construction of high-level huanglongbing research lab on track

An artist's rendition shows a planned new laboratory near the University of California-Riverside that will specialize in research into defeating the deadly citrus tree disease huanglongbing. The project will be built with the help of $8 million in donations from the citrus industry.

The citrus industry is on track to open a dedicated research center near the University of California-Riverside next year to tackle the deadly tree disease huanglongbing.

The project’s schedules and financial commitments are being met and the process of obtaining local, state and federal permits has gone smoothly so far, reported the Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.

“We’ve got an excellent contractor we’re working with and we’re on track to hopefully get some good research projects in there by ... this time next year,” Citrus Mutual public affairs director Alyssa Houtby said.

The grower-funded California Citrus Research Foundation has raised $8 million to construct a biosecurity-level 3 building near the university, which has more than 100 years’ experience in citrus research. A level-3 lab can house the live bacterium.

The facility will enable scientists to do work with plant pathogens that previously couldn’t be done in Southern California. The nearest high-level pathogen lab is at UC-Davis, and materials often must be sent as far away as Texas or Florida to be tested.

Huanglongbing — which has devastated the citrus industries in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina and Texas — has been found in 26 citrus trees in Southern California neighborhoods, Houtby said. Huanglongbing isn’t harmful to humans or animals but causes discoloration of fruit and leaves and eventually kills the tree.

The project proceeds as a 118-square-mile portion of Placer County northeast of Sacramento has been added to the quarantine for the Asian citrus psyllid, which can carry huanglongbing. State officials met with Placer County growers in March to advise them how to protect mountain mandarins and other citrus fruit should the psyllid arrive.

About one-third of California’s land mass is now under quarantine for the psyllid, requiring shipped fruit to be free of leaves and debris. The state is considering adopting a regional quarantine structure under which fruit moving between regions would have to undergo a wet wash.

A committee has made final recommendations for a stepped-up quarantine to state Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross, and changes could be implemented within the next couple of months, Houtby said.

The industry supports improving the quarantine, she said.

“We are in full swing with the navel harvest in the Central Valley and there’s a lot of fruit going up and down the state,” she said. “There’s a lot of opportunity for the psyllid to spread.”

In other developments involving the psyllid and huanglongbing:

• The state and Citrus Mutual are continuing to hold training workshops for farm labor contractors and crew bosses on measures to control the spread of the psyllid.

Each of the three workshops held in the San Joaquin Valley last week drew about 40 labor contractors, Houtby said. More workshops will be held in Southern California, where they began in early October.

For information, visit citrusinsider.org.

• The state has announced a vacancy on the Citrus Pest and Disease Prevention Committee, which advises Ross on outreach and education efforts as well as surveying, detecting, analyzing and treating pests and diseases specific to citrus.

Applicants must send a brief resume by Nov. 7 to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Plant Health and Pest Prevention Services, 1220 N St., Room 221, Sacramento, CA 95814, Attention: Victoria Hornbaker.

For information, contact Hornbaker at (916) 654-0317 or victoria.hornbaker@cdfa.ca.gov.

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