California’s $2 billion citrus industry is not only an economic driver in our state, providing thousands of jobs, but for those of us in the industry, it is much more — it’s who we are.
Often, it’s a family tradition. All of this is at risk due to the Asian citrus psyllid, which has now been found in the heart of the state’s citrus producing region with recent detections in Porterville and Dinuba in Tulare County, and Wasco in Kern County.
It’s critical we remain vigilant in the fight to stop this pest and the deadly disease it can spread and continue the collaborative efforts between growers, packers, shippers and other industry members, regulatory bodies and homeowners.
Now is not the time to waver.
Huanglongbing, the fatal citrus tree disease that can be spread by the Asian citrus psyllid, has only been found in one backyard tree in the Los Angeles basin. However, the psyllid continues to spread and controlling the psyllid is critical to managing HLB, which is also known as citrus greening disease.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture is treating for the psyllid in residential trees in regions where the threat to commercial citrus is high. In addition, the department is surveying for HLB so that future detections can be eradicated as soon as possible. But these efforts are just part of the equation.
California’s citrus industry should take the following steps:
- Be familiar with quarantines and regulations: There are quarantines in effect in Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura counties.
- Search for the Asian citrus psyllid: Inspect your trees monthly using tap sampling and visual searches whenever there is new flush on the trees. While sampling for the psyllid, also look for HLB symptomatic leaves. If you think you have the pest or disease contact your local agricultural commissioner. Also, talk to your pest control adviser and ensure he or she is on the lookout for the psyllid.
- Cooperate with areawide Asian citrus psyllid treatment programs: When psyllids are detected in your area, it’s important to coordinate treatments with nearby growers. By working together, we can ensure treatments are most effective at eliminating the Asian citrus psyllid populations threatening your groves and your neighbors’ groves. While there are organic treatment options, we know the most effective way to protect against the Asian citrus psyllid is traditional treatments, and we encourage all growers to talk to agriculture officials about the programs being implemented in your area.
- Stay informed: The Asian citrus psyllid and HLB threat to California citrus is an ongoing issue, and it’s critical the industry stays up to date. The Citrus Pest & Disease Prevention Program has developed a website specifically for industry members: www.CitrusInsider.org. Check the site regularly for regional and statewide updates, and sign up for the Citrus Alert newsletter.
- Get to know your regional liaisons: Industry liaisons have been identified by CDFA to keep growers and industry members up to date, and help growers coordinate treatments using accepted protocols. Visit www.CitrusInsider.org to identify your regional grower liaison.
There are many parties involved in the fight to save California’s $2 billion citrus industry. Commercial citrus groves are being monitored, and CDFA is orchestrating sampling programs for the Asian citrus psyllid and HLB and coordinating treatment programs in key areas of the state.
The Citrus Pest & Disease Prevention Program is also implementing an aggressive public education campaign aimed at enlisting the support of homeowners to aide in the fight.
Additionally, researchers at University of California-Riverside are testing the viability of a biocontrol program using a natural predator of the Asian citrus psyllid, a tiny wasp called Tamarixia radiata. While Tamarixia is not a silver bullet to stopping the Asian citrus psyllid, it is one of many control options being explored in residential areas of Southern California.
The California Citrus Research Board is also conducting research aimed at long-term solutions to HLB and the psyllid. There is no cure for HLB, and even nutritional programs will not prevent the disease from progressing and eventually killing trees.
What we know now is that the best way to protect citrus trees from the disease is to stop the Asian citrus psyllid from spreading. Inspection and cooperation with treatment programs is critical until a long-term solution can be found.
We cannot sit idly and let this disease overtake our industry. By working together and taking action now, we can ensure California’s vibrant citrus industry remains for our families, workers, neighbors and customers to enjoy for future generations.
Victoria Hornbaker is program manager of the Citrus Pest & Disease Prevention Program and a San Joaquin Valley citrus grower. Nick Hill is chairman of the Citrus Pest & Disease Prevention Program.