Bayer Addresses Challenges in Citrus Industry with Holistic Approach

In Florida, Dr. Dennis Warkentin from Bayer inspects the quality of citrus fruit together with citrus grower David Evans (left).

A world without orange juice is hard to imagine, but it could happen. The culprit is a tiny insect called the Asian citrus psyllid (Diaphorina citri), which transmits a bacteria that causes Huanglongbing (HLB), better known as citrus greening disease. At the XIII. International Citrus Congress, which took place from September 18 to 23, 2016 in Foz do Iguau, Brazil, Bayer (one of DiversityInc’s 25 Noteworthy Companies) showcased its innovative portfolio of products and solutions that support the success and sustainability of the citrus industry. Together with growers, processors and researchers, Bayer experts are working on holistic, sustainable solutions to combat the devastating citrus greening disease.

“This disease is the greatest threat to the entire citrus industry. Globally, millions of citrus trees have had to be culled as there is no cure available at the moment,” states Kai Wirtz, Global Fruit Crop Manager at the Crop Science Division of Bayer. “The infection severely limits the flow of nutrients. The oranges, lemons and grapefruits do not grow or ripen as they should, and any fruits that do form are small and sour. Global production has already drastically declined. Countries especially affected are Brazil, the United States, and China.”

Controlling citrus greening in a holistic and sustainable approach

Assisting farmers in the fight against the disease is one of Bayer’s top priorities. The company pursues an integrated approach to manage citrus greening from nurseries and commercial orchards to abandoned groves in order to keep plantations in production and minimize the progression of the disease. “The main goal is to make trees more resistant to the disease, while at the same time developing anti-bacterial solutions,” comments Wirtz.

“At Bayer, we focus on serving not only famers, but the entire value chain with sustainable solutions to combat citrus greening,” says Mauro Alberton, responsible for crop and portfolio marketing in Brazil at the Crop Science Division of Bayer. The company promotes integrated pest management practices and offers a broad and integrated portfolio consisting of chemical and biological solutions with different modes of action for a minimized environmental footprint. Systemic and contact insecticides such as Movento, Sivanto, Admire Pro, Bulldock as well as the biological Requiem help to control the Asian citrus psyllid vector. The root and plant health products Velum, Aliette, Bayfolan and the biological product Serenade ensure that the plants are robust and the roots healthy so that they can better cope with the disease. The herbicides Alion and Basta reduce the weeds around orange trees that compete for water, nutrients, and sunlight.

“Our citrus specialists support growers on site. Our emergency measures are based on existing tools and phytosanitary best practices,” says Alberton. “In addition, we support monitoring and alert systems and train growers how to optimize their inputs.”

Partnering makes the fight more effective

Bayer is fostering partnerships with the beverage and fertilizer industries and cooperating with international research associations. “Together with our partners we are searching for more rapid screening and testing capabilities, sharing investment and leveraging resources,” Wirtz comments.

For example, Bayer is supporting the Citrus Research and Development Foundation (CRDF) in Florida. The organization has two main research areas. Firstly, it targets the vector to reduce the psyllid population. Secondly, it tries to breed more resistant trees. Growers, the state of Florida and partners like Bayer are funding the organization. CRDF in turn manages the funds to finance projects at research facilities.

In Brazil, Bayer is collaborating amongst others with Fundecitrus, an association for citrus growers. In 2013, both parties signed an agreement with the aim of facilitating faster development of technologies intended to ensure sustainability in citrus farming. Actions include the development of new methods for early identification and diagnosis of the disease.

To improve the situation in China, Bayer is funding research at the Chinese National Agro-Tech Extension and Service Center (NATESC). Amongst other measures, the researchers have updated spraying recommendations in order to reduce the overall spray volume.

Preventive actions

Sustainability is an integral part of the strategy at Bayer. The company therefore takes action not only when citrus greening has already occurred, but also works to prevent potential outbreaks. For example, Bayer is supporting the association California Citrus Mutual in raising awareness among California residents, 60 percent of whom have citrus trees in their yards. With the #CitrusMatters campaign, the partners seek to make private citrus owners more aware of the problem in order to keep the disease from spreading to commercial orchards.

Furthermore, in cooperation with Fundecitrus and the University of Sao Paulo, Bayer is investing about EUR 3 million through 2018 to fund the rearing and release of beneficial control agents. A network of biofactories in Brazil produces the wasp Tamarixia radiata, a natural enemy of the citrus greening vector, the Asian citrus psyllid. Wasps have been released mainly in abandoned and domestic orchards neighboring commercial properties. Research data shows that this significantly reduces citrus psyllid populations.

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