Psyllid threat grows in the Central Valley

August 24, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
A meeting was held to warn people about a teeny tiny bug that can carry a disease that is deadly to citrus trees.

Fresno County Agriculture Commissioner Les Wright told the crowd at the meeting, "The disease could be in Fresno County anytime."

The Citrus psyllid has been found near Porterville in Tulare County, but it is also found throughout Southern California, mostly on citrus trees planted in residential neighborhoods, rather than in commercial groves.

University of California Entomologist, (bug expert) Beth Grafton explains: "And the reason is, commercial citrus growers are spraying for other pests and those pesticides will kill the pysillids, and homeowners are generally not spraying for pests so the pysillids grow and proliferate."

The bug isn't so bad, it's just that it can carry a deadly virus called huanglongbing, it's wiped out hundreds of thousands of acres of Florida citrus trees, but so far it's only been found in one tree in a backyard in Los Angeles.

"We fully expect there are additional trees in the Los Angeles basin that are infected, and it's highly likely the psyllids will find them and start spreading the disease around," Grafton said.

The Psyllids are such a problem in Southern California they've even sent out mailers that contain a small magnifying glass so folks can inspect their own citrus trees. Something Wright endorses.

"I think everybody should be out looking at their trees," Wright said.

The bugs are hard to see but the white waxy lines they leave behind are a clue. The goal is to eradicate the bugs so the disease cannot take hold.

Joel Nelson of California Citrus Mutual said, "We've got to maintain that aggressiveness in order that the San Joaquin Valley citrus industry continues to be protected."

The Federal and State governments have already spent $25 million tracking and killing the pests where they can. State Assembly Member Jim Patterson of Fresno told Action News the legislature is expected to appropriate even more.

"There's a lot at stake here the citrus industry is $1.5 billion, it employs over 10,000 people, and if we allow the psyllid to disease the trees we could lose the entire capacity of California."

If you suspect a psyllid on your property contact the local county agricultural commissioner or call the pysllid hotline at 800 491 1899.


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