Growers test new method to fight citrus greening

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The Dundee Citrus Growers Association is trying a new method to fight citrus greening - in industry's No.1 nemesis.

The association is installing miles of netting over its trees to protect them from the bacterial disease spread by the psyllid insect.

More than 100 acres of young grapefruit and tangerine trees on a grove along 80 Foot Road, just east of Bartow, have been covered so far. The association plans to cover hundreds more.

Along with keeping pests like the psyllid off the trees, the netting has other advantages. Growers won't have to use as much pesticide or water.

“You get the sun, but you get a better quality of sunlight,” explained Dundee Citrus Growers Association CEO Steven Callaham​​​​​. “The screen actually diffuses the light and distributes it better within the tree, so it makes the tree grow better."

Callaham says the trees, because of a combination of factors, grow twice as fast under the netting as they would otherwise.

There are disadvantages, however. The netting and the structure that holds it up are expensive and are only guaranteed to withstand winds up to 75 miles per hour, so they would not withstand a big storm.

Although Callaham won’t say the exact price for the netting, he admitted it's in the millions.

The vast majority of Florida's citrus farmers provide fruit for juice. The profit margin is slim, so the netting would probably be out of reach for most.

Even though the netting is not a cure-all for greening or an option for most growers, Callaham says it is a step in the right direction.

“It's positive," commented Callaham. “The citrus industry has not had a lot of positive news.”