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New Mexico-based company to bring biologically enhanced nutrition program to citrus growers

Rio Grande Valley citrus growers experience obstacles, especially pests and diseases that disrupt production and harvest. One company, New Mexico-based Biomimetic Soil Solutions, seeks to help farmers mitigate disease while optimizing citrus health following the release of a biologically enhanced nutrition program (bENP) in December.

“These biologically enhanced nutritional programs are a step ahead of what ENPs are, and [they] retain nutrients’ bioavailability,” said Biomimetic Soil Solutions’ Director of Science, Dr. Srinivas N. Makam.

The bENP program is an alternative biological method to boost tree immunity. The program, recently published in the Plant Disease Journal, does have a focus aside from building tree health: Huanglongbing (HLB), commonly known as Citrus Greening.

Citrus Greening, one of the most devastating citrus plant diseases, makes infected trees produce bitter, lopsided fruits with green-colored peels that are unsuitable for sale or juicing.

For the Rio Grande Valley, 60-65% of agricultural coverage is citrus, namely, grapefruit. According to Texas A&M AgriLife, in 2020, 85% of acreage was in Hidalgo County, 14% in Cameron County, and 1% in Willacy.

Although the Citrus Greening disease poses no threat to humans or animals, it destroys all forms of citrus trees and affects overall production.

In 2012, the Valley recorded its first case of Citrus Greening in San Juan, with a case in Mission following just a year later. Per the Texas Department of Agriculture, its latest quarantine effort and expansion was in Zapata County in February 2023, which neighbors Starr County.

By addressing the insect-transmittable bacteria Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus (CLas) with biologicals and biostimulants, such as GO Isolates ® (a microbially activated humic acid), Seaweed crème® and Fulvex® (a biostimulant that helps nutrient chelation and transportation on a cellular level), the program aids the trees in natural pathogenic defense.

While the program helps mitigate Citrus Greening, it optimizes citrus health and boosts tree immunity. It may also enhance yield and crop production.

“It’s not one size fits all,” said Makam. “We customize the program to the grower.”

Five-year trials that began in 2017 in the greenhouse followed field trials with four programs and their respective effects. These trials and screenings were done in Florida, Texas, and Arizona, respectively, resulting in this peer reviewed publication.

According to the data gathered with Program 2, the program with healing processes may take up to one or two years to show a minimizing amount of CLas bacteria. Citrus trees and groves seem to heal through seasonal fluctuations while fighting the bacteria and symptoms.

“The tree fights just like we do,” Makam said. “We have a, let’s say, a flu, a fever. Our body’s immunity fights. It goes up and down. It’s in a similar way that the tree tries to fight. But it’s under constant attack.”

Citrus production also saw an 80% annual increase in fruit number per tree, although results vary and fluctuate, alongside fruit sizes from small, medium, large, and jumbo.

“In the first year, we did see the jumbo grapefruit [dominating]. But in the second year, we saw the opposite due to alternate bearing,” Makam said before stating that despite results, the program cannot guarantee to do everything.

However, due to biostimulants, nutritional value and quality can increase.

“This also enhances the nutritional status [and tree health], which we can track and show to the growers,” said Makam. He also hypothesizes that it may enhance water use efficiency as aquaporins (channels for the transfer of water) gene expression was seen to be downregulated.

Despite citrus greening not being a critical issue for the Valley, as is low water supply and drought, Makam warns growers of infected trees that may appear asymptomatic.

“Once it occupies the leaf, especially the phloem, it takes months before it manifests, before you see the symptoms,” Makam said. “Even though it is asymptomatic, even though you don’t see those typically asymmetrical yellow symptoms on the leaf, it does not mean that there is no CLas proteobacterium.”

Through this bENP program, Biomimetic Soil Solutions, partnered with BioFlora to bring it to market, hopes to help growers reduce product loss and the need to uproot infected trees through rehabilitation.

For more information, visit https://www.soiltoolbox.com or contact Biomimetic Soil Solutions by phone at 505-456-2882.

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