This has not been a good year for the citrus tree growers in the Sunshine state. The 2018/19 season started with the promise of an increased harvest – the USDA predicting a 76% growth for Florida’s primary crop. But then a flood of lower cost imported fruits and juices left growers with an average of 15% lower income.
Then orchards were hit with the global spread of huanglongbing (HLB), also known as citrus greening disease. That disease, spread by the Asian citrus psyllid hit South America and seemed to be quickly rushing north.
And although scientists at the University of Florida say they are beginning to see progress in halting the spread of citrus greening, we have a new problem.
The Lebbeck mealybug was first spotted 10 years ago in Palm Beach County. Since then, researchers have kept a close eye out for the highly invasive and fast moving insects. And just last month, an infestation was discovered in Highlands County.
The Nipaecoccus viridis ranges in color from black to purple to blue-green, and exudes a thick, white sticky wax that coats the branches and can cause premature fruit drop. In South Africa, the mealybug cost growers half their crop. And in the middle east, they burned whole groves of orange trees to stop the spread.
A study done more than 10 years ago predicted the mealybugs would be a serious threat to citrus crops in Florida, Louisiana, Texas and Arizona. With the potential to wipe out 25-50% of the annual crop if unchecked, at the very least, we would see increasingly higher prices on citrus and juices.
How Can You Help?
The UF staff is alerting farmers and homeowners to be on the lookout. The bug also can be found on cotton, mango, pomegranate and several ornamental trees and bushes like hibiscus and mulberry. They say if you find the bug in your backyard, cut off the branch, double bag it and place in the trash can.
They’re also recommending for gardeners and commercial growers to power wash larger equipment and sanitize smaller tools with bleach and water. And wash all clothing in hot water.
The Larger Problem
Because of its wax covered body, male cocoon, and still barely understood behavior, Nipaecoccus viridis is very difficult to control with insecticides. Repeated applications with increasing amounts of chemicals needed could cause significant environmental effects on other plants and animals.
In Hawaii, introduction of a natural predator from Hong Kong – the encyrtid wasp, Anagyrus dactylopii Howard was effective for minimizing the mealybugs impact on grape, mulberry, cotton, tamarind and hibiscus, as well as citrus plants.
Cold treatment of fruit during shipment is not effective because the temperature needed to kill the mealybugs would cause chill damage to the fruit.
But a Solution Is Coming!
The good news is Lauren Diepenbrock, assistant professor of entomology at the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center (CREC) in Lake Alfred, Florida is working with her team to find a solution. Their hope is to minimize environmental and human exposure to chemical insecticides and nip this in the… bug.
If you’re having trouble with insects invading your home and yard, we’d love to help you out. We’ve been bringing pest solutions to the Gulf Coast of Florida for 30 years. And we’re committed to utilizing reduced-risk, 100% organic products and services. Our Perimeter Plus Green Pest Control is our most popular service – keeping homes from Apollo Beach to Port Charlotte free of pests year round. To schedule an appointment or learn more, just give us a call!