Brite Leaf Citrus Nursery, LLC was established in 1998. We are a first-generation business with 18 full time employees. The nursery started as a supplier to citrus growers in Florida providing trees for new plantings as well as reset plantings, primarily for juice industry, but we also grow trees for the fresh fruit industry. The nursery started as a containerized production system in hoop type greenhouses.
Over the years the nursery has adapted to the needs of the industry as well as changed production practices. In 2006 we moved the nursery approximately 75 miles north of the original location to isolate from diseases. This was a major undertaking and basically we started over building an entire new facility from the ground up. The current location is isolated from commercial plantings by 20 miles. Citrus Canker was the driving reason for this move, but we knew at that time there would be other diseases affecting citrus. Insect vectored disease like HLB, CVC and Leprosis are especially problematic for citrus nurseries.
Additionally, the production system changed to a fully enclosed protected culture program requiring multiple layers or steps to prevent disease entrance. The layers include double entrances with air curtains at all external entrances, a walk-through foot bath and spray booths and clothes changing are required for everyone prior to entry into any of the seedlings, tree or budwood production areas. Hand washing is also required for everyone when transitioning from one area to another.
To maintain profitability in this type of system, a high plant density is required to generate the dollars per square foot needed to cover the cost of construction. This high density inside of fully enclosed structures creates another problem which is lots of moisture. Since the air flow in these structures is limited due to the very small screen opening needed to excluded psyllids, it is very difficult to keep the plants dry, especially in Florida humidity. (Warm, wet conditions are just ideal for the growth and spread of many of the fungal and bacterial diseases the affect citrus.) To offset this problem a drip irrigation is required to maintain a dry system and the list goes on. As you change one part of the system you must change another part because of the initial change. My hope with this condensed synopsis is that we all understand the citrus nursery growers, of which I am just one example, in the United States are individually making multimillion dollar investments to do everything possible to prevent the spread of disease.
Why is the above important? We (citrus nurserymen) all believe for our industry to stay profitable we must start with disease free plant material as part of controlling our costs and keeping production profitable. So how does all this fit with NCPN?
To consider the future, we first need to review our history. For many years’ citrus production has been isolated to just a few states, Florida, California, Texas and Louisiana, for the most part and we operated as separate growers not thinking too much about what the other states were doing. When problems arouse we just dealt with them as they came and moved on. In Florida for example we had significant problems with graft transmissible diseases like Exocortis and Psorosis. In early 1950’s biological indexing data indicated that between 10-35% of all trees in production were infected with Psorosis reducing yields and increasing the risk of cold damage. By the late 1958 data showed 72% of trees in the parent tree program were infected Citrus Viroids like Exocortis further reducing production? A Florida citrus budwood program was established to ensure trees were on grafted with budwood from disease free, true to type, mother trees. Today it is all but impossible to find these diseases in Florida. An historical example of how a clean plant program has positively impacted our industry, but this only worked because a program was established and our industry adopted it.
But the World has changed a lot since the 1950’s. We are no longer isolated industries that did not have to be concerned about what was happening in the others. We as Americans are much more mobile than we used to be. We have UPS and the internet. I can go on Amazon and order a citrus tree and have delivered by UPS to my front door in 48 hours. The home owner grow your own movement is stronger than ever and driving this market. Thus, citrus is moving around North America more than ever in our history. We are no longer isolated from each other. Not only are we shipping citrus around the country, we are also traveling the world more. Consider the number of different ethnic groups that that have made the USA their home since the 1950’s. They bring with them their culture and their culture almost always involves food. This includes citrus as well as other types of plant material.
Since our states have been focused on eliminating diseases in our respective industries, we are not prepared to deal with the diseases that are in other states. Not to mention illegal importation of plant material. Additionally, not every citrus producing state has the knowledge base or the programs in place to recognize citrus diseases much less prevent them from spreading. This creates a new paradigm that can only be solved at the national level.
Why can this only be solved at the national level? In part for the reasons I discussed above. Yet there are others. The technologies needed today to detect and remove these diseases are growing fast. The training required to operate the testing equipment is also increasing just as fast. This must be combined with a strong understanding of horticultural practices just to have the proper plant material needed to use the equipment for testing / indexing. NCPN has become the common thread that connects all the parts and has brought many states together to discuss this problem and share information. At least in citrus not only are we improving existing programs, we are providing funds to establish program that previously did not even know they needed to exist. Scientists and growers are communicating and sharing information at the national level more than any time in our history. This will be the only way to save the citrus industry from a disease like HLB. NCPN, clean plant programs, citrus nurseries and citrus growers are all links in the same chain. The chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
NCPN is a proactive program that works by preventing the spread of disease versus a reactive program that endeavors to remove a disease after it has spread. The cost to benefit ratio is difficult to quantify without question. Perhaps the best comparison is to childhood vaccination programs. In the USA, these have worked so well that we have forgotten the benefits to the point that many new parents are not vaccinating their children and the number of cases of measles is now increasing in the major metro areas. Hard to quantify the benefits until after the damage is done.
NCPN is providing the information and support funding and is improving citrus health. This is important funding which will have a long term positive impact toward feeding the world’s population into the future.