California growers adapt to citrus pest rules

02/15/2013 12:37:00 PM
Vicky Boyd

LINDSAY, Calif. — Once the dust settled about how wide an area of Tulare County would be regulated for Asian citrus psyllid, California’s citrus growers and packers say the new rules haven’t been too disruptive.

But that’s not to say that the new requirements haven’t meant additional management, paperwork and costs.

The Tulare County agriculture commissioner’s has increased the number of Asian citrus psyllid traps in the county to help detect the pest, which can carry huanglongbing, also known as citrus greening Vicky BoydThe Tulare County agriculture commissioner’s has increased the number of Asian citrus psyllid traps in the county to help detect the pest, which can carry huanglongbing, also known as citrus greening disease or HLB.“It’s just another routine that we have to go through,” said Richard Sholander, director of field operations for LoBue Citrus. “It’s just more coordination — that’s all it boils down to.”

The reason behind the new rules is Asian citrus psyllid can carry the bacteria responsible for citrus greening, also known as huanglongbing or HLB. Although the organism is harmless to humans, it can stunt and even kill citrus trees.

On Dec. 12, the California Department of Food and Agriculture designated two restricted zones radiating out 5 miles from where a total of three Asian citrus psyllids were trapped.

One zone encompasses Lindsay and Strathmore, where two pests were found; the other takes in Terra Bella, where one pest was detected.

The zones fall short of outright quarantines, which could have carried additional regulations and potentially involved more acreage, said Larry Hawkins, a U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesman in Sacramento.

Under the Tulare County regulations, commercial citrus groves within 800 feet of a psyllid find are in an eradication zone, and growers must treat them with an approved insecticide.

California Department of Food and Agriculture representatives will spray all non-commercial citrus within the eradication zone.

Growers within the restricted zone but outside of the 800 feet have the option of removing all stems and leaves from citrus before loads leave the area or treating with an approved insecticide.

If they choose the latter option, they have seven days from the end of the insecticide’s re-entry interval to pick the fruit. An exemption added in mid-February extends the picking period to 10 days if there’s wet weather, said Gavin Iacono, Tulare County deputy agricultural commissioner.

As a result, growers typically designate a block or blocks they plan for upcoming picking and only treat those, said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.

It also means more coordination between the grower and packer, he said.

“It’s my understanding that most all of the growers opt to do the spray treatment, and that’s going very well,” Blakely said. “It’s an easier way to facilitate movement of the fruit.”

Ted Batkin, president of the Visalia, Calif.-based Citrus Research Board, agreed.

“There’s always some grumbling that comes with an adjustment to change,” he said. “But the majority of the industry has adapted very, very well. Everybody understands what’s going on and why it’s happening.”

The insecticidal treatments have an added benefit, Blakely said.

“I think everyone’s pleased that they’re treating because that’s really what’s going to eradicate the pest if it’s here and we haven’t found it,” he said.

Packinghouses that receive treated fruit from restricted zones must follow approved methods to dispose of the stems and leaves from those loads.

The restrictions are expected to remain in place for about two years, Batkin said.

But that could change if additional Asian citrus psyllids are trapped.

“We know this pest has the capability of moving — it’s moved everywhere it’s gone,” he said. “If the population increases in Southern California, that just puts more pressure on it coming over the Ridge.”

The Tulare County Ag Commissioner’s office also has beefed up trapping of Asian citrus psyllids throughout the county, Iacono said.

In Florida, the citrus industry has incurred more than $3.6 billion in lost revenues due to the pest, according to a January 2012 University of Florida study.

Only one citrus tree has tested positive for greening in California. The residential pummelo tree in the Hacienda Heights area of Los Angeles County, confirmed positive in March 2012, was destroyed.



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