Officials hope psyllid was hitchhiker
Find causes concern in citrus industry
Local citrus and ag officials are hopeful the Asian citrus psyllid discovered in an orchard near Strathmore is an isolated incident and will not trigger a quarantine.
“One find is not enough reason for a quarantine,” said Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner Marilyn Kinoshita on Monday. However, Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, said a second find could trigger that quarantine and be a significant cause of concern.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) reported finding one adult Asian citrus psyllid (ACP) near Strathmore. The insect, considered a significant threat to the citrus industry, was discovered in a trap collected Oct. 28.
“All we have right now is one psyllid,” said Kinoshita.
It has not been definitely determined if the psyllid carried Huanglongbing (HLB), also known as citrus greening, a disease which has wiped out a good part of the citrus industry in Florida and parts of the South. HLB is a deadly bacterial disease that can kill citrus trees in as little as five years and there is no cure. The disease was first discovered in the United States in 1998 and the first evidence of it in California was discovered in March. That prompted a quarantine in the Hacienda Heights area of Southern California.
There is no known cure for the disease, and officials have relied on extensive monitoring to control the spread of the bug.
Nelsen said should another psyllid be found, then growers in the quarantine area would have to wash their fruit and be sure to remove any green foliage, especially leaves, before the fruit could leave the quarantined area.
He did add a second find would not stop fruit from being shipped and should not hurt sales.
The first psyllid found in Tulare County in February of this year was believed to have been a “hitchhiker” — a bug that simply came up here in fruit or even in a vehicle. No other psyllids were discovered.
Kinoshita said she feels this one will be another hitchhiker.
“I hope she’s right,” said Nelsen, who then added, “In all seriousness, there’s the potential of more.”
Officials have felt it was only a matter of time before the bug becomes entrenched in the Orange Belt. They had hoped that would be later than earlier. What is more important is the discovery of the disease the bug carries, and so far there is only the one case in Southern California and officials believe that came from bud wood grafted onto the tree where the disease was found and not from a psyllid.
However, Nelsen said the bug is endemic in many parts of Southern California and has been found as far north as Ventura County.
“It’s hard to avoid the psyllid from spreading,” he said. “We’re trying to control it the best we can,” he added.
Nelsen said if more psyllid were found, then ag officials would begin treating the area to eradicate the bug.
State officials were out over the weekend placing more than 150 new traps.
“They’re all over it pretty aggressively,” said Nelsen.
“I don’t think they’ll find any more,” said Kinoshita, who added the recent cold temperatures should have killed off any bugs that might have been around.
As for advice for growers, Nelsen and Kinoshita said they should just sit tight and continue business as usual. The bug and disease it carries are absolutely no threat to consumers.
The find comes as the 2012-13 harvest begins of what is predicted to be a $93 million carton navel orange crop. Last year navel oranges had a gross value of $505 million but all citrus had a value of approximately $700 million.
Nelsen said the citrus industry in the county employees roughly 13,000 people.
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.