By Ruth Borger
LAKE ALFRED, Fla. — The coronavirus has upended daily routines, events and schedules. From work to schools to shopping, every aspect of life changed overnight and continues to change with each passing day.
Even with a global pandemic, UF/IFAS citrus researchers plow forward in their quest to find answers to fighting the devastating virus known as citrus greening.
On a recent Tuesday morning, when most employees were encouraged to work from home, UF/IFAS entomologist Lauren Diepenbrock planted young citrus trees in a grove in Lake Alfred, Florida. Conscious of the developing public health crisis, Diepenbrock took precautions and practiced social distancing.
After all, the trees must be planted if results could be expected next year.
The research is part of an integrated experiment with four other scientists at the citrus research facility located in Lake Alfred. Researchers are trying to achieve multiple goals with these experiments. For example, they want data to support UF/IFAS recommendations for new methods for use in citrus production. Scientists also want to know more about the challenges they face when implementing these methods and how to overcome them.
One challenge is the Asian citrus psyllid, the invasive pest that spreads the bacteria that causes greening.
With concerns about the psyllid’s increasing resistance to insecticides, growers have been trying new tools to protect their new plantings from psyllids or at least ensure profitability of the crop. These tools include reflective mulch, exclusion bags, and kaolin clay.
Initial research into each of these tools shows promising results for one factor or another — for example, psyllid control — but none of the research looks at them in terms of comprehensive grove management options – yet.
To that end, the UF team is comprised of an entomologist, two plant pathologists — one focuses on above-ground pathology, one below — a water and soil scientist and a tree eco-physiologist.
Collectively, they will look at the comprehensive impacts that these tools can have and understand better how to optimize them for growers to take full advantage of these tools.
The research program will look into: (1) how to best scout for insects and pathogens for each tool, (2) impacts of Phytophthora, a plant damaging fungus, with the different management tools and (3) best options for water and nutrient management, (4) how each tool influences tree growth parameters.
Diepenbrock hopes to have data to share with growers starting next year. This might include initial information regarding the challenges in planting and maintenance, and early pest pressure.
The university is still open and operating under modified work conditions that include online instruction, meeting via teleconferencing and working from home. But some research cannot be done from a home office, so researchers are implementing new ways to continue their research programs while supporting the need to contain the virus.
“Creativity is an important component of scientific research,” said Diepenbrock. “Many great discoveries are the result of challenging circumstances.”
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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS)
is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make
that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than
a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty
in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions
to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.