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Growers air concerns over psyllid discoveries
Quarantine announcement expected soon
Concern by area citrus growers over the discovery of Asian citrus psyllids was clearly evident Wednesday during one of two meetings held on the recent discoveries.
More than 250 people attended the second of two sessions in Tulare held by the Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner’s office and the California Department of Food and Agriculture to discuss the discoveries of two psyllids in the past week and the third in less than a year in the county.
The psyllid, which has been spreading around Southern California since 2008, is a major concern in the Orange Belt where more than 13,000 people work in the industry. The tiny pest can be a carrier of Huanglongbing (HLB), also known as citrus greening disease that has wiped out entire groves in Florida and Texas and brings the same threat here. While not harmful to human health, HLB is fatal for citrus trees and there is no cure. Once a tree is infected, it will produce bitter, hard, inedible fruit and eventually die.
“We certainly have a problem we have to deal with,” opened County Ag Commissioner Marilyn Kinoshita. She said approximately 400 people attended the morning session.
Melinda Mochel, associate agricultural biologist with CDFA, said that negotiations are under way to establish a quarantine area after one psyllid was found in a grove northeast of Strathmore and a second in a grove south of Terra Bella. While some feel the two pests were just hitchhikers brought here from infested areas of Southern California, CDFA said one discovery prompts a quarantine.
The two latest finds both came from traps put out for Glassy Wing Sharpshooters, a pest that is not a threat to citrus but to grapes, but one that can live in citrus groves. The first find back in December was less than two miles from the Strathmore discovery last month.
Both Mochel and Kinoshita said they expect a quarantine to be declared soon, possibly this week, but the second find could delay that decision a few days. It could also change the boundaries that originally were roughly from near Woodlake to south of Ducor. The CDFA said the quarantines would be roughly a 20 mile radius around the find, which would extend the quarantine area to roughly the Kern County line with the Terra Bella discovery. The boundary does take in the Tipton juice plant along Highway 99.
Mochel explained that fruit, including leaves and stems, can move freely within the quarantine area, but any fruit going outside of the area must be free of stems and leaves.
That includes citrus seedlings and the popular mandarins that are sold with stem and leaves.
That got the attention of Lindsay grower Abraham Bettancourt.
“I’m real concerned. I pick stem and leaves. That’s going to affect me,” he said.
Bettancourt, who has been growing citrus for 15 years, said he felt the officials are wrong in their approach to the problem.
“We need to fight this together,” he said, explaining he would like to see spraying by growers mandatory. Right now, it is voluntary for growers to spray.
Bill Bennett, a Porterville area grower of oranges, lemons and limes, is also concerned on how committed and unified growers will be in fighting the pest.
His biggest concern is “the cooperation within the industry.” He explained that includes everyone from the pickers to the shippers to control the green waste.
It was green waste that got much of the attention during the two-hour meeting. Mochel said no green waste will be allowed to leave the quarantine area, and that includes in empty bins or on machinery used in groves. “It is stems and leaves that are definitely a threat,” she said.
Other information released at the meeting:
- No quarantine established anywhere in the state has ended, even those begun in 2008.
- Some foreign markets may want certification that fruit being shipped overseas is clear of psyllids.
- Quarantine area would be expanded depending on if and where new psyllids are found.
- 26,125 square miles in the state are under citrus quarantine.
- Growers were advised to stay as up to date with developments as possible.
- More than 1,137 traps have been placed in the Orange Belt.
- Quarantine is for two years after the most recent find.
- Officials are setting up a Cooperative ACP Quarantine Project at the ag commissioner’s office and a treatment coordinator will be named to assist growers in how to fight the pest.
- A meeting will be held in December in Exeter to discuss treatment options.