Orange growers and packers in California’s Tulare County have started implementing state restrictions on handling and moving fruit imposed since the latest Asian citrus psyllid finding there.
“These are the first detections in the heart of a citrus producing area,” said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.
The psyllids can spread citrus greening bacteria, or huanglongbing (HLB). The three found in traps in the county this past year — including two in October and November — were not carriers.
More than 400 people, most in the local citrus industry, came to a Dec. 11 meeting in Tulare seeking answers from state and county officials on what the restrictions — which fall short of a quarantine — mean for their operations.
Two areas, each with a radius of 5 miles, face limits. Packinghouses affected include Porterville Citrus Inc. in Terra Bella, Suntreat Packing & Shipping Co., LoBue Citrus and Sierra Citrus Association in Lindsay, among others.
Growers are also affected. Spraying of groves is required within an 800-meter area and recommended throughout the 5 miles. Movement within the zones is unrestricted, but fruit cannot be shipped further until stems and leaves are removed.
Blakely “The (California Department of Food and Agriculture) has completed treatments of residential areas and they’ve instructed commercial growers to begin,” Blakely said Dec. 13. “Some growers have already gone ahead and treated within the 800 meters.”
Growers, harvesters, packers and haulers are still in the process of creating compliance agreements with industry partners. Once agreements are in place fruit can be harvested, cleaned and moved to packinghouses or other destinations outside the area.
Any organic growers who may be required to spray, or choose to, can only market fruit as conventional for the season’s duration, Blakely said. The groves keep their organic certification.
California Citrus Mutual anticipates full compliance from growers and packers, but regulators can step in if violations materialize.
“If an owner does not treat the grove, (CDFA Secretary Karen) Ross has authorized county commissioners to enforce that under the nuisance code and abate those properties by just going in and doing the treatment,” Blakely said.
The restrictions are much as would be in place for a quarantine. But a quarantine has a bigger radius — 20 miles was under discussion originally — and lasts longer. CDFA plans to enforce the limits for six months while evaluating whether a quarantine of at least two years is needed.