For nearly two decades now, we’ve watched as a scary pathogen jumped from one region to the next, decimating the world’s citrus. Finally now, way up here in Northern California, it’s beginning to feel very real.
The disease is citrus greening, or Huanglongbing. It wreaked havoc for many years in Asia and Africa before turning up in Brazil in 2004, then in Florida the following year. In all of these regions, which account for huge chunks of the world’s citrus supply, production has since nosedived. Florida’s orange juice industry has shrunk by 70 percent.
Something else these areas have in common: widespread use of conventional techniques, and therefore unhealthy soil biology.
Trees infected with citrus greening yield fewer fruit, and those it produces fail to ripen. The disease traces to a bacterium, Candidatus liberibacter, which infests and disrupts a tree’s vascular system. The bacterium has spread around the world by riding within its carrier, the Asian citrus psyllid, a tiny flying insect that can be difficult to spot.
In 2012 the insect showed up near Los Angeles, and then finally, in spring of 2019, in the Sacramento area – right here in our backyard, and also the backyard of our Central Valley and Foothill citrus regions. Quarantines are spreading, with agronomists warning that no cure yet exists. Pesticides targeting the psyllid remain growers’ only hope.
Viewed from an ecological perspective, the whole scenario is all the more tragic because we know what the solution is, and we know we can implement it quickly. The solution, of course, is healthy soil biology. When soil contains vibrant microbial communities, which we can restore within a single growing season, it becomes impossible for any single species to overpopulate.
Furthermore, with the dense metabolic activity among the microbes in healthy soil, plants benefit from a vast array of mechanisms that make available the nutrients they need, at the specific times they’re needed. This leads to truly healthy plants, and therefore healthy immune systems.
Like any life form, C. liberibacter will overpopulate when there’s an opportunity. Unfortunately, modern conventional agriculture excels at creating opportunities. But with a reshaping of field techniques, combined with microbial applications, we consistently achieve dramatic results in plant health and vigor, with a total lack of pathogen or pest outbreak.
And just as promptly, this all leads to greater farm profits, resulting in large part from reduced input costs. If you can confirm your microbial communities are healthy, you know the results you’ll see. It’s that simple. On any piece of agricultural land, there is always a quick and efficient path to biological health.
At some point, the laboratories of modern industry will formulate a chemical- or genetics-based solution to Huanglongbing. But what of the next major threat? As long as we keep growing crops in unhealthy soil, pests and pathogens will persist, as will the continued decline of the world’s topsoil, and therefore our ability to feed the human race.