Valley Growers Worried About Citrus Disease

March 16, 2009 7:40:42 PM PDT
Concern is growing among local growers over a pest which can devastate the Valley's billion-dollar citrus industry. The pest has been found in California. The disease is called Huanglongbing (HLB) or greening disease. It makes fruit lopsided and bitter and eventually kills the tree.Beth Grafton-Cardwell of the UC Research Center in Lindcove said "It's something we don't have a cure for." Citrus growers say Huanglongbing will eventually be found in Valley orchards. The disease is carried by the Asian citrus psyllid. Grafton-Cardwell said "It's about the size of an aphid, smaller than a fly."

The pest has been found in San Diego and Imperial Counties through it was not carrying the disease. Huanglongbing destroyed tens of thousands of acres of Florida citrus over the last two years. Growers like Allan Lombardi of Lindsay fear it can wipe out entire orchards and damage the fruit. Lombardi said "It doesn't color properly, doesn't change to the orange color, makes the fruit lop-sided and tastes bitter."

Grafton-Cardwell said the fight against Huanglongbing is her priority. "The worst part of it is it makes the juice of the fruit bitter and unpalatable so the fruit is unmarketable and eventually the tree will die if it is infected with the disease."

Grafton-Cardwell said it's important the public can recognize the pest and limit its movement. Asian citrus psyllids are attracted to the new spring growth. "They lay their eggs on the new flush of citrus."

Magnifiers have been sent out by the California Department of Food and Ag to help people take a closer look at any bugs on citrus trees. Grafton-Cardwell said "This particular pest is of much higher concern because it is transmitting that disease and you can't kill it fast enough with pesticides."

Growers say it may take a few years but Huanglongbing eventually will infect valley citrus. The idea is to minimize its impact.

This week Grafton-Cardwell will go before a State Senate Ag Committee in Sacramento to talk about what could happen if the disease goes unchecked.

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