HLB tolerant rootstocks arrive in Australia

Huanglongbing (HLB) tolerant rootstock seeds from the University of Florida have arrived in Dareton and Bundaberg to be evaluated under Australian conditions.

Citrus Australia’s Variety and Rootstocks Committee have been working on specific strategies in preparing the industry if Australia has an outbreak of HLB.

Citrus Australia CEO, Nathan Hancock, said the committee was driven by the fact the industry needs to be as far advanced as it can be in biosecurity preparedness.

HLB tolerant rootstocks play an important part of that strategy.

HLB is native to Asia but was detected in Florida in 2005, and by 2009 had reached across America and into 33 different countries.

The 20 different HLB tolerant rootstocks from Florida have already been sown at research centres to be propagated under Australian varieties and planted into commercial orchards.

“I’m really pleased that they are finally here, and they’re in Bundaberg and Dareton being grown out from seeds into seedlings.

“Hopefully we will get some good understanding how they react to being in Australian soils, growing in Australian climates with varieties that are important to Australia in terms of domestic and export production.

“In Florida there’s such a prevalence of the psyllid and such a high level of HLB infection that simply staying alive is enough for them to continue trying to breed that tree and do more with it whereas here, we’re not under that pressure so it will be good to understand more of the characteristics the rootstocks can deliver in our conditions,” said Mr Hancock.

“Breeders in Florida have been facing this major problem with HLB that we don’t have in Australia yet so they’ve had an opportunity to breed varieties that they think might have some tolerance to that disease.

“The guys in Florida, not just the university but the USDA [United States Department of Agriculture], they’ve put a lot of work into this material over many decades.

“For us to be able to access that material and potentially benefit from the work that they’ve put in is a really good thing.”

It will take just five to ten years to evaluate the rootstock to get some idea how the material will react to Australia’s climate and whether the material will be worth pursuing on a big scale.

Mr Hancock said it’s important that the rootstocks have arrived in Australia well before Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP) and HLB.

“We need to know if these rootstocks from Florida are going to be good rootstocks for Australian conditions and it’s also important to get access to the material ahead of when you actually need it.

“The important thing to know is whether they’re useful commercially in Australia,” said Mr Hancock.

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