VENTURA, Calif. — The Asian citrus psyllid has been the talk of the California citrus industry since the pest was detected near San Diego in 2008.
About 40 growers, pest management advisers and others got a chance to do more than talk about the psyllids May 8 during a field trip sponsored by the California Citrus Pest & Disease Prevention Program and California Department of Food and Agriculture.
Prior to the visit to the Orcutt Ranch Horticultural Center in Los Angeles where they got to see the psyllids close up, participants received an update on the status of the psyllid and what’s being done to combat the pest, which can spread Huanglongbing — or citrus greening disease. HLB, as it also is known, already has devastated 60% of Florida’s citrus production.
Psyllids have been spotted in several California counties, but greening disease only has been detected in one tree — in 2012 in a residential area of Hacienda Heights, east of Los Angeles. The infected tree was removed and the area placed under quarantine.
Experts believe there are undetected diseased trees in urban areas, said Bob Atkins, Asian citrus psyllid statewide coordinator for CDFA.
“Now that we have the psyllid to vector (HLB) around, that’s our biggest threat,” he said.
Populations of the vectors must be kept in check, which Atkins said is his job and that of county grower liaisons, who help growers coordinate treatments to keep the pest population low.
As of late March, 46,420 square miles were quarantined as a result of psyllid finds, said Nawal Sharma, environmental program manager for CDFA’s Agriculture Plant Health and Pest Prevention Services.
Quarantine zones help relieve pressure from buyers of California citrus worldwide, because strict protocols must be followed when moving citrus or citrus plant materials out of the area, he said.
The industry is funding the fight against the psyllids to the tune of $15 million per year through a grower assessment of 8 cents per box, said Victoria Hornbaker, citrus program coordinator for the Citrus Pest & Disease Prevention Program.
Limited funding also comes from other sources.
One of the biggest challenges in the fight against the psyllids is groves that no longer are maintained, said John Krist, chief executive officer for the Ventura County Farm Bureau.
The problem needs to be addressed, he said, because those groves are “potential reservoirs” of the psyllids.
Other speakers at the meeting were grower liaisons Cressida Silvers of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties and Joanne O’Sullivan of Ventura County, who presented updates on their respective counties. David Morgan, environmental program manager for CDFA told how Tamarixia radiata, tiny parasitic wasps, have been imported to help combat the psyllids.
The meeting and field trip also were supported by local agricultural commissioners, farm bureaus and California Citrus Mutual.