Lessons from Florida aid in California's Asian citrus psyllid fight

11/18/2009 02:03:44 PM

As our citrus-growing counterparts in Florida suffer the loss of production because of Asian citrus psyllid and huanglongbing (HLB), California has the advantage of learning from their experience.

Ted Batkin
California Citrus Research Board

One warning comes through loudly — aggressive action to control the psyllid and constant testing for the bacterium causing HLB are critical to save citrus.

We’re heeding the warning.

The psyllid can be a carrier of bacteria that can cause the fatal tree disease known as HLB and citrus greening disease. While not harmful to human health, HLB destroys production, appearance and value of citrus trees, and the taste of their fruit and juice. Once a tree is infected with HLB, there’s no cure and the tree will die.

In Florida, the psyllid’s threat came when the industry was concerned about citrus canker, and little was done to control the psyllid’s population until it was too late and HLB was present. The disease was first found in two counties. Six months later, it was found in 12.

In less than two years, it was identified in 30 counties — Florida’s entire citrus-producing region. The rapid detection of HLB in Florida underscores the need for California to act now, before the disease makes its way into citrus-production areas, threatening our $1.6 billion industry.

At the California Citrus Research Board, we’ve been monitoring the psyllid threat worldwide for more than 10 years. Before the psyllid made its way into Mexico and California, we had begun educating growers and others involved with the process — retailers, master gardeners, pest control advisers and consumers — that, if not controlled, HLB will be a death sentence for California citrus. We’re asking everyone, including homeowners, to help us in this fight.

We’re collaborating with county officials, the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support and supplement their efforts. We’ve increased our program with a team of field trappers and identifiers in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley.

Ultimately, the CCRB program will monitor groves throughout the state. Using detection grids, we’re able to detect populations early in their life stage, meaning spread of the psyllids will be limited and threat of HLB reduced.

We’re also providing rapid and mass testing of psyllids and plant material through our new lab in Riverside, Calif., and have plans to increase testing with a lab to open in San Joaquin Valley in 2010. We anticipate the ability to test more than 4,000 samples weekly when operating at maximum levels.


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