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Citrus quarantine appears likely
State expects to make declaration next week
A two-year quarantine of citrus in Tulare County is expected to be announced next week, a spokesperson with the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) said Tuesday.
The quarantine is in response to the find of an Asian citrus psyllid discovered in a commercial orchard about two miles northeast of Strathmore. The bug that carries the citrus disease Huanglongbing (HLB), also known as citrus greening, was found in a trap collected in late October.
While Steve Lyle, spokesperson for CDFA, said the department is moving forward with the quarantine, some in the citrus industry are working to have that action delayed to see if any more psyllids are trapped.
Following the announcement of the find, approximately 500 traps were deployed in the Strathmore area. Some believe the bug was a “hitch hiker” and traveled here, but Lyle said, “We look at this as a second detection. It tells us there’s a breeding population in Tulare County.”
Lyle was referring to the find of a psyllid in February in the Lindsay area that until now, officials had believed was an isolated incident and not an outbreak.
The psyllid itself is no threat to citrus. It is the disease the tiny flying bug can carry, HLB, that has devastated citrus trees in much of Florida and the South. There is no cure for the deadly bacterial disease that can kill citrus trees in as little as five years. It was first discovered in the United States in 1998 and the first evidence of it in California was discovered in March.
However, the psyllid has been spreading and Lyle said there are numerous quarantines in Southern California and the Ventura areas where the bug has been found, but so far there is only one discovery of an infected trees and officials believe that came from imported root stock. Lyle did say they found one infected psyllid in that Hacienda Heights area in March.
He added the psyllid found in Strathmore was too “dehydrated” to test for the disease. Officials have inspected a large number of trees in the area where the psyllid was found and have not detected any signs of the disease in the trees.
Gerald Denni, manager of Golden Valley Citrus in Strathmore, said the imposition of a quarantine, while not sought, is not something the industry did not expect because the bug has been migrating north. He said the quarantine will not stop the selling for shipping of the citrus, and in most instances, will have little impact.
Under the quarantine, all fruit will have to be stripped of any foliage — stems or leaves — and washed before being moved outside of the quarantined area. If the packing house is in the quarantined area, there will be no impact. For picked fruit going to a packing house outside of the area, that will have to be inspected to ensure it is cleaned of any stems or leaves and washed before it can go outside of the area.
The quarantine will not affect packed fruit and Denni said it does not create any problems in marketing the fruit.
“This is not an insect that gets into the fruit,” he said, like the Mediterranean fruit fly that if found here would stop the shipment of fruit because that bug digs into the fruit.
“It’s not going to disrupt us,” said Denni.
The quarantine would apply to all citrus and could last for up to two years. It also applies to backyard fruit, meaning residents will not be allowed to take fruit outside of the area without the risk of penalty.
The quarantine will also apply to nursery citrus stock. Moving that out of the quarantine area will be very difficult. Because the disease is found on stem and leaves, it is the restriction of any possibly infected citrus that is critical to stopping the spread of the disease which all agree would be devastating to the Orange Belt and the local economy.
Lyle said there are steps that need to be taken before the quarantine is announced. He said details of the quarantine, such as how large an area is included, have not been worked out. He said grower meetings, as well as meetings with residents, are being organized. Denni said there is a chance the declaration, which will be done by the US Department of Agriculture, could be delayed, but Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner Marilyn Kinoshita said she expects the declaration next week.
Citrus grower John Corkins said it might be best to include the entire county because that would be less limiting on the movement of harvested fruit to packing houses.
Citrus is a $700 million industry in Tulare County. There are 119,000 acres of commercial citrus, 61 packing houses, four juice plants and more than 13,000 county residents earn their living in the citrus industry.
Residents who believe they have seen evidence of HLB in local citrus trees, should call CDFA’s toll-free pest hotline at 1-800-491-1899.