Smaller citrus quarantine announced
Area limited to 5 miles around pest finds
A much more acceptable citrus quarantine was announced Monday during a meeting of nursery owners, one that is far smaller in size than what had been discussed.
Officials even stopped short of calling it a quarantine, instead referring to Monday’s action as an “interim deliberative approach” intended to limiting the spread of the Asian citrus psyllid.
The psyllid can carry Huanglongbing (HLB) disease, which poses a possibly devastating threat to the citrus industry. The disease has not yet been discovered in Tulare County.
The plan will place a restriction on the movement of trees and green citrus waste within a 5-mile radius of where two psyllids were discovered in traps collected in October. The affected areas are around the first announced discovery of a psyllid in a commercial grove northeast of Strathmore and the second find of a psyllid in a commercial grove a mile south of Terra Bella.
“That’s what we were presenting as a more viable approach,” said California Citrus Mutual’s Bob Blakley when told of the decision Monday afternoon. “We felt if there were psyllids, a larger [quarantine] area would spread it.”
Blakley and others argue making the quarantine areas smaller was more restrictive of the movement of green waste and even equipment that could spread the pest. The original idea floated since the first find was announced on Nov. 16 was a 20-mile radius quarantine. That would have been extended after the second discovery was announced early last week.
“It is an approach that gives us a much higher probability of eradicating it,” he added.
The psyllid is the only pest that carries the citrus HLB, also known as citrus greening. The bacterial disease, which has no known cure, has devastated citrus orchards in Florida and Texas. The psyllid itself is no threat to citrus and the fruit is safe for consumption.
HLB was first discovered in the United States in 1998, and the first evidence of it in California was discovered in March. However, psyllids have been found in the state since 2008, and presently there are 26,000 square miles of land under quarantine in Southern California. Only one tree — which received infected wood via a graft — and one bug have tested positive for the disease in the state.
Local officials had argued the bugs found in October were probably hitchhikers that traveled here in a vehicle or truck from one of the quarantined areas.
“Hitchhiking is its favorite mode of travel. It tends to follow traffic corridors,” Blakley said of the pest that is smaller than an aphid.
The deliberative approach is basically the same as the quarantine. Oranges can still be harvested, cleaned, packed and shipped anywhere. However, fruit picked within the restrictive area must be washed and stripped of any green waste before leaving the area, if the packing house to which it will be sent is outside of the restricted zone. Any lose stems and leaves must be removed from the bins, as well.
The news was especially good for nursery owners, who were facing severe restrictions on the movement of young trees. That restriction still applies within the five-mile areas, but there are no nurseries affected. The 20-mile radius would have impacted several commercial nurseries, including B and Z Nursery on South Newcomb Avenue near the Porterville Airport.
“It’s just temporarily good news,” cautioned B and Z general manager Leonard Massey.
Another discovery of a psyllid could change things quickly. Most in the citrus industry believe the bug will eventually establish a home in the Orange Belt.
“This could change tomorrow,” Massey said.
Melinda Mochel, an associated agricultural biologist with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, explained the smaller zones came about because officials have found no evidence of a breeding population of psyllids.
“If we do find another, we would go to 20-mile quarantine,” Mochel said.
However, she said extensive trapping and inspections of groves where the psyllids were found have turned up nothing in more than a month.
“Movement within that 20-mile area would be a lot more risky than that limited to the 5-mile area,” she added.
More than 1,000 traps were put out in the areas around the finds.
The restrictions under the interim deliberative approach are for the same two-year period as they would have been under a quarantine, and any additional discoveries of the pest would extend that time frame.
Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner Marilyn Kinoshita, whose world was turned upside down by the discoveries, said she was pleased with the smaller designations.
“It’s good news. It’s good news for our nurseries,” she said, telling the growers gathered that the information was received at 9 a.m. Monday.
Citrus is a more than $750 million industry in Tulare County, where 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.