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Growers get update on psyllid situation
Annual Citrus Mutual Event draws hundreds
More than 200 citrus growers who squeezed into one of the conference rooms of the Visalia Convention Center to get the latest update on the Asian citrus psyllid situation did not get a lot of new information.
The psyllid is the greatest threat ever to the local $750 million a year citrus industry because it carries the disease Huanglongbing, also known as citrus greening, a bacterial infection that is severely threatening citrus production worldwide.
The bug was the topic of one of the seminars offered during the annual California Citrus Mutual Citrus Showcase, but clearly drew the most attention.
Asked by grower Billy Bennett what was new, CCM president Joel Nelsen replied, “you’ll have to find out.” The room was overflowing.
What growers learned is that no new pysllids have been discovered after three were found in commercial groves last year, prompting a quarantine of two areas of the citrus belt and spraying of both commercial orchards and back yard trees in the areas of the discoveries.
However, most agree more of the tiny bugs will be found, it is just a matter of when. Dr. Beth Grafton-Cardwell feels it will be this spring as citrus trees develop new foliage which is where the psyllid lays its eggs and larva forms. That process has just begun.
“I think we’ve done amazingly well,” she said of not finding any more psyllids so far, but added, “I think we’ll see more this year.”
If there was good news from the session, it was Grafton-Cardwell, the UC Extension specialist and director of the Lindcove Research and Extension Center, saying that a psyllid was found in Ventura County in 2010, but because of the onset of winter, only one spray application was done. Still, no more psyllids have been found in that area and it has been nearly three years.
“That tells me if you are aggressive early, you have a chance to control it,” she said.
And that is what growers and officials have been in the county: aggressive. Within days of the discoveries late last year, plans were in place to begin spaying backyard trees and within a few weeks groves were being sprayed to kill the bug. Officials did reduce the size of the quarantine area from a 20-mile radius to just 5-miles and they have allowed fruit to move if a grove has been sprayed, but they immediately address the finds and took action to control the psyllid. Shipment of fruit from packing houses is not impacted.
The psyllid finds were two northeast of Strathmore and one south of Terra Bella. All were found in traps.
“We are surrounded by HLB,” said Nick Hill, chairman of the Citrus Pest and Disease Prevention Committee. “This is the only place in the world that doesn’t have the disease,” he said after rattling off a long list of areas that do have it, especially Florida where Dr. Etienne Rabe said is suffering severe fruit drop this year.
“The future’s up to you to support and educate other growers, or we’re not going to have an industry,” cautioned Hill.
Officials said the current efforts are to keep the disease out of the area to buy time for researchers to come up with solutions, be it a way to control the psyllid or cure the disease.
Right now neither is available, although Ted Batkin with the Citrus Research Board said they will have wasps that eat the psyllids ready for release by the end of the year. They are also working on ways to discover the disease should it find its way here. Right now, the symptoms of the disease may not surface for as long as five years, but officials want to be able to detect the disease sooner so it is not spread by the bug.
While officials conceded the bug continues to spread in Southern California, they note that only one tree has been found with the disease in California and they hope that was an isolated incident.
“We’re trying to suppress the psyllid to buy time to find a cure. We know there are HLB infected trees out there. We’re trying to keep the psyllid away from them,” said Grafton-Cardwell.
The psyllid was first discovered in California in 2008 and has spread into several counties, including most recently Santa Barbara County.
Growers are paying a 9-cent per carton assessment to help fund the fight against the psyllid and HLB, amounting to $15 million a year. The federal government is kicking in another $10 million.
Still, stressed Grafton-Cardwell, it is up to the growers to be aggressive. She suggested they do their own inspections of their trees and not just rely on the thousands of traps that have been placed throughout the Orange Belt.