Rude welcome for citrus psyllid

12/21/2012 11:02:00 AM
Mike Hornick

As California pushes to keep citrus greening out of the state’s commercial groves, growers and packers in Tulare County are implementing new restrictions with no audible murmurs or grumbles.

Obviously they want to be able to keep selling fruit in the next six months after the latest find, the third in a year there, of an Asian citrus psyllid.

So you won’t be seeing stems or leaves on product shipped from target zones in Lindsay and Strathmore, or Terra Bella. Their removal is now required. So is spraying of groves.

Longer term, producers want to escape Florida’s fate. Florida is the scary bedtime story California citrus growers tell their kids.

Huanglongbing (HLB), or citrus greening, cost that state $3.6 billion in lost economic activity from 2006-11, according to the University of Florida.

Of that, $1.3 billion was in losses to growers.

“The questions from growers are, ‘How do we make this work?’” said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.

“There are no outcries, protests or threats not to comply. Between Citrus Mutual, the (California) Citrus Pest and Disease Prevention Committee and the county agricultural commissioner, I think you’ll see a lot of peer pressure brought for everyone to participate. You’ll see good compliance in Tulare County.”

Previous psyllid findings clustered around urban residential areas to the south, in the Los Angeles and San Diego areas. (The lone HLB case was in residential Hacienda Heights.)

It’s no small feat for an industry to speak with one voice, even on an important matter.

But expecting the same from homeowners would be sheer fantasy. They’re a law unto themselves.

The straggler psyllids in Tulare are so few yet as to raise suspicions they rode up the road from parts south to the San Joaquin Valley.

Eradication could be a realistic outcome there. But to the south, the pest seems as well established as any homeowner.

A war of attrition goes on, but they too have taken out mortgages.

The real battle is to keep these city dwellers from encroaching on commercial groves in Riverside County.

“We’ll have to be vigilant but we believe that we can stay ahead of it,” Blakely said.

“I think we’ll be able to slow it enough that we won’t be looking at what they’re dealing with in Florida unless we let our guard down.”

E-mail mhornick@thepacker.com.

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