The Spanish citrus industry has demanded immediate steps to prevent the spread of an insect known to carry huanglongbing (HLB), a disease it claims could have “almost apocalyptic” impacts on the sector.
Spain’s Citrus Management Committee (CGC) forecasts if HLB – also known as citrus greening – were to hit the industry, it could lead to annual losses of up to €4.31 billion, direct job losses of 200,000 and significant impacts on associated industries like transport and crop protection.
The committee has studied the effects of the disease in Florida where citrus production volume is now just a quarter of what it once was, and compared the U.S. state’s situation to its own circumstances.
The first rumblings of unease began in 2014 when a psillid that carries HLB, Trioza erytreae, was found in the northern Spanish region of Galicia.
In 2015, the pest was found in the Portuguese city of Porto, and since then it has covered “practically the entirety” of the Atlantic Coast between La Coruña, Spain and Lisbon, Portugal.
This means the HLB vector is now just 190km from the nearest Spanish citrus production region of Huelva, and 170km from the Portuguese cultivation center of Algarve.
CGC’s study recognizes Spain has certain issues working in its favor compared to Florida in combating the disease, for example the lack of hurricane-grade winds that can encourage the insect’s spread over great distances.
The other advantage is the insect is a vector for the less aggressive African strain of the disease, which would lead to a slower establishment.
However, the research also noted Spanish growers would be disadvantaged by the proximity of plantings – more so in Valencia than in Andalusia – and the increasing abandonment of some fields that are not monitored nor looked after-
A lack of investment and R&D against the disease could also be decisive factors for accelerating the insect’s expansion, according to the CGC.
In response the association has called on expedited procedures to allow the release of a beneficial parasite from South Africa, the Tamarixia dryi, which could lead to the effective control of Trioza erytreae populations.
In conjunction, the CGC calls on more funding from national and Valencian Community bodies for research.
“Before the seriousness of the threat, the CGC – as the sector as a whole – has been insisting to the Spanish Government and the community authorities about the need to intensify control measures for imports of other plants that are susceptible to carry the vector from affected areas and extend it in productive areas,” the committee said.
“More important than that would be to heighten precautions in border inspection posts, in ports and airports, to avoid the illegal entry of buds (for grafting) or plants that could be contaminated by the bacteria.