Growers say citrus greening in California was only matter of time

04/05/2012 06:42:00 PM
Don Schrack

FRESNO, Calif. — Confirmation of a huanglongbing-diseased tree in a Los Angeles County backyard has failed to register much more than raised eyebrows from the California citrus industry.

There has been no interruption of harvesting, packing and shipping in the San Joaquin Valley, home to the bulk of the state’s citrus groves.

“As far as Booth Ranches is concerned, it’s absolutely business as usual,” said Neil Galone, vice president of sales for the Orange Cove-based grower-shipper. “We already take all of the appropriate precautions for all of the pests that we have to deal with.”

An infected citrus tree found in a Southern California urban area does not surprise industry leaders.

“It’s exactly what we’ve been saying since the first psyllid showed up in San Diego County — that it was only a matter of time before we found the disease in a backyard,” said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for California Citrus Mutual, Exeter.

Asian citrus psyllids, which can carry the bacterial disease huanglongbing (HLB) or citrus greening, were first detected in California in 2008. Since then, psyllid infestations have been discovered in a number of Southern California counties. None of those insects carried HLB. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, one psyllid and a backyard lemon tree had tested positive in late March.

After witnessing the devastation HLB caused in Brazil and Florida, the California citrus industry began developing strategies in 2006 to control the pest and hold off the disease, Blakely said. The first goal was to develop a master plan.

“We now move from Plan B, dealing with the psyllids, to Plan C, which is dealing with the disease,” said Ted Batkin, president of the Citrus Research Board, Visalia. “All the steps are right out of our playbook.”

As part of Plan C, the CDFA was preparing April 4 to remove the infected tree and established a 93-square-mile quarantine that prohibits the movement of all nursery stock out of the area and a no-sell order on all citrus material.

The state, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, started treating potential host material within an 800-meter radius of the infected tree, said Larry Hawkins, Sacramento-based public affairs specialist for the USDA.

“We’re going to make every effort to suppress the psyllids, to suppress the disease to the greatest extent that is practical to do,” he said.


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