The $2 billion California citrus industry is facing its biggest threat yet — the Asian citrus psyllid — and if we want to overcome it, we all need to work together.
At Booth Ranches and the Exeter-Ivanhoe Citrus Association, we take our role very seriously, and we’re calling on other packinghouses and industry members to continue do their part to save California citrus.
While growers and farm labor contractors play a critical role in detecting and preventing the spread of the Asian citrus psyllid, packinghouses play an equally important role in enforcing best practices for controlling this pest.
The Asian citrus psyllid — and the incurable and fatal plant disease it can spread, known as huanglongbing or citrus greening disease — put our state’s commercial citrus industry and the more than 20,000 jobs it supports at risk.
In Florida, the disease has caused the loss of more than 8,000 jobs, and the industry and workers it supports are struggling. We do not want to face the same fate here.
We recommend the packinghouse best practices outlined below be integrated with regular training procedures. Contractors and workers should be trained and retrained on how to control the spread of the Asian citrus psyllid, and be held accountable.
This should be done not just within quarantine zones, but at all packinghouses throughout the state. Our livelihood literally depends on fast and diligent action.
We recognize the extraordinary efforts of our industry to come together and take responsibility within individual operations. But continued vigilance is needed.
- Cooperate. Stay in compliance with all California Department of Food and Agriculture, county and federal regulations, including quarantine boundaries, load tarping and psyllid-free declaration reporting.
- Know who you hire. Employ trusted farm labor contractors, transporters and other workers who adhere to regulations and best practices.
- Make employees accountable. Require farm labor contractors to follow best management practices for controlling the spread of the pest. The Citrus Pest Disease and Prevention Program, with packinghouses in the state, developed a letter of agreement outlining best practices. Require contractors to sign this agreement and hold them accountable. It’s available at www.citrusinsider.org.
- Properly manage plant material. In quarantine areas, growers can choose one of two options to ensure Asian citrus psyllids are not moved on plant material. When accepting deliveries from groves implementing the field-cleaning option, check to make sure no leaves or stems have been brought to the packinghouse. Ensure that bins arriving from locations that have chosen the pre-harvest spray option leave packinghouses free of leaves and stems. Always double bag and dispose any stem and leaf material.
- Educate your crew. Host or sponsor regular “tailgate trainings” to educate field labor contractors, crew bosses and harvesters on the Asian citrus psyllid and best practices. Hang informative posters and distribute fliers, paycheck inserts and other materials on the importance of not transporting plant material between work sites and how to control this threat. Take advantage of resources and materials available through the Citrus Pest and Disease Prevention Program — visit www.citrusinsider.org for free materials.
- Educate industry partners. Provide information by including pest and disease information in your company newsletter, on your website or when you meet.
- Report suspected findings of the Asian citrus psyllid. Visit www.citrusinsider.org to see photos and call your local ag commissioner if you think you’ve spotted the pest.
- Stay informed. The Asian citrus psyllid threat to California citrus is an ongoing issue and it is critical industry professionals stay up to date. Visit www.citrusinsider.org regularly for regional and statewide updates.
It is in everyone’s best interest to implement a proactive and vigilant approach. If we can control the spread of the Asian citrus psyllid together, we can control HLB and give California’s citrus industry a fighting chance.
Terry Orr is packinghouse manager for the Exeter-Ivanhoe Citrus Association, Exeter, Calif. Scott Carlisle is food safety coordinator for Orange Cove, Calif.-based Booth Ranches LLC.
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