Claudio Pinilla

Protecting Citrus in Argentina

With over 135,000 hectares of cultivated area for citrus, Argentina ranks fourth in the worldwide lemon production. In the period 2017-2018, according to data from Federcitrus, the production of fresh lemons reached 1,675,851 metric tons, 270,000 of which were exported mainly to the European Union. Nevertheless, in order to maintain its leading role in the sector, the country must fight against the Diaphorina citri, an insect that can spread a serious disease in the citrus fields. To control this plague, Bayer and the largest Argentine producers are joining forces in an alliance to develop an integrated strategy to control the vector.

It all started around 1919 in Southeast Asia where the first cases of Diaphorina citri, a vector of a bacterium that causes the disease known as Citrus Greening or Huanglongbing (HLB), were reported. In the 1960s, the pest was identified in citrus plantations in Africa and, since then, the insect has spread to different parts of the world. The most severe crisis occurred in Florida, United States, in 1998, devastating nearly 70% of the cultivated citrus area. Due to infected plants and fruits, the vector continued to spread reaching Latin America in 2004. It was first spotted in Brazil and then in other countries in the region. The insect – vector of the disease – can be found today in Argentina and Uruguay although, fortunately, free of the disease.

In general, Diaphorina feeds on citrus shoots, sucking the sap and transmitting the bacteria, which reproduce and expand into the vascular bundles of the tree. The bacteria obstruct the veins of the plants, preventing them from absorbing the water and nutrients necessary for their survival. It is a silent disease, by the time the producer notices it, the plantation is already significantly affected, the plants are close to death, and farmers experience huge impacts in production.

Citrus Greening is probably the greatest threat to the global citrus industry, particularly in countries that are dedicated to the production of citrus fruits such as Argentina, China, Spain, and the United States, as there is no effective cure for the disease once the plant is infected. To address this serious threat, government authorities are working to prevent the entry of bacteria through the implementation of phytosanitary barriers at the borders of the countries. The associations within the sector are also acting in conjunction to develop ways to prevent the plague from spreading; while the industry is investing more resources to ensure a sustainable production, these include the correct use of products and suitable handling of different production, processing, storage and transportation techniques.

Claudio Pinilla, Fruit and Vegetable Crop Manager Bayer - Southern Latin America
Claudio Pinilla, Fruit and Vegetable Crop Manager Bayer - Southern Latin America
Claudio Pinilla,
Fruit and Vegetable Crop Manager, Bayer - Southern Latin America

In Argentina, for instance, Bayer together with the five largest citrus farmers in the contry (San Miguel Agrícola, Argenti Lemon, Ledesma Group, Citromax, and Citrusvil) have set up efficiency trials in the main areas of the country, to learn more about the pest’s dynamics and control response of the insect. Together, we are also carrying out waste dissipation tests to analyze safe application intervals prior to the harvest of fresh fruit, as well as for the extraction of citrus essential oil (mainly from lemon) that meet the maximum residue requirements in the country and in import markets. The results of the experiments are very encouraging: we reached a control rate of over 95%.

Due to the positive results observed, the project has been expanded to design an integrated vector mitigation strategy. The Argentinean producers and Bayer agreed to continue working on a mitigation strategy; the initiative was made official at the beginning of February during the Fruit Logistica 2019, in Berlin.

As part of the agreement, Bayer is providing pests and waste management know-how in order to ensure the correct and efficient use of products, the design and implementation of supervised trials on the companies’ plantations who are members of the association. The project will run over a three year period in the northwest of the country. Together, we aim at establishing a sustainable plan to reduce the probability for a potential Greening expansion, as well as obtaining the registration of these products for citrus in Argentina.

Undoubtedly, Argentina lemon production has seen great successes in the last 30 years in the country, as well as in the international market. This industry has significant importance in economic terms, and it is a job generator: the industry has had a positive impact on 150,000 Argentines, who rely directly or indirectly on the citrus sector. We are confident that through the collaboration among the industry’s stakeholders we will find a viable solution for this threat, while helping farmers maintain their production and prestige at global level. Lemon either fresh or its derivatives contain key nutrients that are essential for human health, which is why they deserve our full effort – this is our reason to get involved and be part of the solution.

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