Reports of an Asian citrus psyllid in a residential area of Ventura County, Calif., have local, regional and state officials on high alert. The county has been under quarantine all year because of the pests.
The pest, found the week of April 4, triggered a standard testing/trapping response from the California Department of Food and Agriculture during the weekend of April 9-10, according multiple media reports and a spokeswoman at the California Citrus Research Board.
Joel Nelsen, president of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, said the only way the state will be able to avoid the devastation that Florida citrus producers suffered when the psyllid’s invaded their state is a rapid response mentality.
“The find was disappointing but not unexpected,” Nelsen said April 11. “The good news is that it was a single find, probably a hitchhiker.”
Nelsen said two other single finds earlier this year in commercial fields in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties was a signal that the citrus growing community would need to remain vigilant and aggressive.
“One of those finds was in a bulldozed grove. The other was in Santa Paula in Ventura County. Some people say that means we are in trouble. I don’t think so. I like to argue that it shows how effective our trapping and watch programs are,” Nelsen said.
The Asian citrus psyllid is responsible for spreading huanglongbing disease, commonly known as citrus greening in this country and as yellow dragon disease in Mexico and Asia. The disease decimated Florida’s citrus groves beginning in the late 1990s and is working its way through Mexico.
Some agriculture researchers and citrus growers in Mexico have been working with a species of wasp as a possible way to eradicate the Asian citrus psyllids, but Nelsen said that option has been discussed and dismissed in California. He said part of the problem is that the wasps’ reproduction cycle isn’t nearly as fast as the psyllids’.
“The citrus growing community in California has decided not to use them here,” Nelsen said. “The tests with them have been inconclusive.”
Nelsen said that traditional pesticide treatments have been working well to keep the psyllids under control in most areas in California. Generally a soil drench treatment of an infected plant is enough when a single find is made.
All Californians are encouraged to be on the lookout for the bugs and to immediately report any evidence of them to the state agriculture department’s hotline at 800-491-1899.