California works to prevent spread of HLB

05/31/2012 03:56:00 PM
Tom Burfield

California citrus growers are hopeful that the state’s Department of Food and Agriculture and other agencies can prevent huanglongbing — or citrus greening disease — from spreading outside of a residential area west of Los Angeles.

That’s where California’s only case of the dreaded disease had been detected as of mid-May.

The disease was found in the Hacienda Heights area of Los Angeles County in an Asian citrus psyllid sample and plant material taken from a lemon/pummelo tree, according to the CDFA.

Known as HLB, the disease attacks the vascular system of plants and can kill trees within two years. There is no cure.

HLB, which is not harmful to humans or animals, has been found in Mexico and already has wreaked havoc with Florida’s citrus industry.

The University of Florida estimates that the disease has resulted in more than 6,600 lost jobs, $1.3 billion in lost revenue to growers and $3.6 billion in lost economic activity since it was discovered in Florida in 2005.

HLB also is present in a handful of other states.

The psyllid has been identified in several Southern California counties since it was first detected in 2008.

To help keep the disease in check, a 93-square mile quarantine is in place in the Hacienda Heights area, and it’s expected to remain in effect for at least two years — the time it can take for a tree to exhibit symptoms.

California citrus growers were resigned to the fact that the disease would show up after the first psyllids were discovered.

“This is something we knew was inevitable,” said Neil Galone, vice president of sales and marketing for Booth Ranches, Orange Cove, Calif.

So far, the disease has not been found in the sprawling San Joaquin Valley, a major citrus-growing region.

While most growers believe it’s only a matter of time until it spreads northward through the valley, they hold onto the hope that it won’t happen.

Ideally, a way to stop or control the disease will be found before it reaches the Central Valley.

“It is a concern,” Galone said, but he has not seen panic among the growers.

“A lot of smart people are looking for solutions.”

In California, as of late May, the disease only had been found in one backyard tree and in no commercial groves, said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for California Citrus Mutual, Exeter.

Fortunately for commercial growers in the Central Valley, there typically is a buffer between houses and commercial groves.

CDFA has done a good job keeping HLB out of commercial groves, Blakely said.

The California industry has learned a lot from what has happened in Florida, said Paul Huckabay, Western citrus sales manager for Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Oviedo, Fla.

“They’re on top of it,” he said, with federal, state and local agencies conducting monitoring and trapping programs.

Alex Teague, senior vice president and chief operating officer for Limoneira Co., Santa Paula, Calif., said growers always are concerned about any kind of bacterial or viral disease, but the people of California “always rally to keep it contained and eradicated.”

Agencies are working on it, infected trees are being treated and people are vigilant, he said.

“That’s all you can do.”



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