by Curlan Campbell, NOW Grenada
- Citrus greening disease will decline citrus production
- Pest Management Unit needs more budgetary support to address crisis
- Tissue Culture and Soil Testing laboratory needs to be made operational.
Former Farmers Representative in the Senate Keith Clouden is among farmers across the island feeling the effects of citrus greening disease. Discovered in Grenada in 2015, the citrus greening disease continues to wreak havoc, and according to the Marketing and National Importing Board (MNIB) field observations, this will result in a decline in citrus production.
Known by its scientific name Huanglongbing, citrus greening is said to be caused by the bacterium Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus which is spread by the Asian citrus psyllid. Once a citrus tree becomes infected, early symptoms include yellowing of the leaf veins. Asymmetrical chlorosis referred to as “blotchy mottle” is the most diagnostic symptom of the disease among sweet oranges. Another recognisable symptom is the chlorotic patterns that develop on leaves with some leaves totally devoid of green. The advanced stages of citrus greening disease results in tree death.
Clouden says he is quite lucky not be too badly affected despite seeing a decline in citrus harvest and he sympathises with other farmers who are not quite as fortunate. “I know of one farmer on the western side of the agricultural district, he lost close to 6 acres of oranges. As a result of the citrus greening taken a gradual toll, I have been noticing a number of fruits being deformed; also, the drying of some branches. I am not witnessing a dramatic decline in my production, for example, but I have noticed that I am getting less than I used to get. But no doubt when you look at the trees you can observe that they are affected by citrus greening.”
Clouden’s farm in La Sagesse St David produces a number of citrus and other variety of crops. He advises farmers to continue applying good agricultural practices on their farms to prevent further damage to their trees. “Because citrus greening puts your trees under stress you have to know as a farmer to improve on the nutrition of your tree so it can withstand some of that stress. You need to prune to get rid of the dry branches and eventually you need to replant. Outside of that farmers have to burn whatever they prune or bury it but I know in some places like in Florida they burn them and they replant so that’s what I think is the immediate mitigating possibility in trying to keep the trees economically viable.”
Despite receiving assistance from the Pest Management Unit, Clouden believes that not enough support is being given to addressing this crisis. He is hoping the 2019 budget will give sufficient budgetary allocation towards a campaign geared at supporting farmers, as opposed to the 2018 budget allocation. “I don’t think that farmers are receiving enough support from the Pest Management Unit, because they are not adequately funded. To mount a national anti-citrus greening programme would require a substantial amount of money to be invested in a programme of spraying and treatment of trees I have not seen in their budget. I think for 2018 they may have had $100,000 allocated; now they may during the course of this year revised that by upgrading it but that $100,000 is totally inadequate to address citrus greening.”
He lamented the high cost of inputs to deal with the disease as another significant problem. “You see the cost of input is quite expensive. As the ministry personnel from the Pest Management Unit indicated for example if you use a fungicide like Serenade it is very expensive, and if you are going to do the 4 agricultural districts you need much more resources than the ministry has allocated to the Pest Management Unit.”
For the last 15 years, as Farmers Representative in the Senate, Keith Clouden clamoured for getting the Tissue Culture and Soil Testing laboratory operational. He took the opportunity ahead of this year’s budget to continue this call. “Because if you are going to plant you must know what medium you planting and what nutrients are available and if you need to supplement it; so both the soil lab and the tissue culture lab I am appealing to government on behalf of farmers to do something to get these 2 facilities operational because it will make a significant difference.”
Meanwhile, MNIB’s Supply Chain Manager, Roderick St Clair is forecasting a reduction in orange and mandarin production and advises farmers to seek support from extension officers in order to maximise production.