California, Arizona growers remain vigilant on citrus pest - The Packer

California, Arizona growers remain vigilant on citrus pest

10/21/2011 03:38:00 PM
Dan Gailbraith

California and Arizona citrus growers hope their industries won’t suffer the same fate as their counterparts in Florida, where citrus greening disease — also known as huanglongbing or HLB — has devastated thousands of acres of citrus trees.

State and federal agriculture officials have joined the California citrus industry in fighting the Asian citrus psyllid, which carries the disease and has been spotted in several locations in Southern California, said Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, Exeter.

“They’ve had a population explosion in the Redlands area (about 60 miles east of Los Angeles),” Nelsen said. “That’s disturbing.”

So far, though, none of the psyllids that have been trapped showed signs of HLB.

“The industry is doing a fantastic job in matching federal dollars to detect, survey and communicate the seriousness of this issue,” Nelsen said.

Growers continue to have the support of elected officials in Southern California as well as in Washington and in Sacramento, the state’s capital, he said.

Citrus grower-shippers are highly concerned about HLB, but they’re hopeful that the combined efforts of the state and federal government and industry members will keep the psyllids at bay.

“I am guardedly optimistic that we will be able to control the psyllid and the spread of HLB in California,” said Tom Wollenman, general manager for LoBue Bros. Inc., Lindsay, Calif., and chairman of Citrus Mutual.

Psyllids have been found in the Riverside area, the Los Angeles Basin and the San Diego area, he said.

“Pretty much, they have been able to treat those areas and eradicate the psyllid,” he said.

There’s not much growers can do other than be vigilant.

“It’s something you’re going to check for continuously,” Wollenman said.

The pest can be eradicated in one place, then turn up somewhere else a short time later. So far, however, it has not reached California’s major citrus-growing region.

Dennis Johnston, partner in Johnston Farms, Bakersfield, Calif., is worried about the effect an embargo on California citrus might have if one is imposed by countries that import the state’s fruit.

Exports account for about 30% of the state’s citrus, he said.

In Arizona, Mark Spencer, secretary-treasurer and chief operating officer for Associated Citrus Packers Inc. in Yuma, said a quarantine was imposed in the area in June 2010 when psyllids were found there.

“If they don’t find any more, the quarantine will be lifted in 2012,” he said.

He is concerned that HLB has been detected in Mexico not far south of Arizona, and he also is bothered by fact that the psyllid continues to show up in his neighboring state.

“It makes me nervous that they haven’t been able to eradicate it in California,” he said.

Wollenman is pleased with the way the threat has been handled.

The state of California, its Department of Food and Agriculture and the Citrus Research Board “are doing excellent jobs in controlling the psyllid and trying to locate it,” he said.

He believes California growers have some advantages over Florida growers.

“We have more tools at our disposal than what Florida had when the psyllid was found 10 years ago,” he said.

He also believes the state’s climate might be more conducive to controlling the psyllids.

The geography of the region also may help prevent a psyllid infestation, Johnston said.

“We’re hopeful that the Tehachapi Mountains are an effective barrier to keep it out,” he said.

Still, Wollenman remains concerned.

“This is probably the biggest challenge we’ve ever faced here,” he said.



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