Citrus industry worries over spread of pest

VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) -- The spread of a citrus disease in southern California has local citrus growers worried about their future.

On Tuesday, a south valley research summit was focused on the fight against a dangerous pest. California growers are responsible for 85-percent of the fresh citrus consumed in the US, but the industry faces a major foe in the Asian Citrus Psyllid(ACP).

The tiny pest can carry a disease called Hualongbing. HLB was discovered in backyard trees in southern California this summer. California Citrus Mutual president Joel Nelsen said, "We've got to find - bottom line - HLB before HLB finds the commercial industry."

Experts told growers gathered in Visalia how the psyllid and HLB have decimated Florida's citrus industry. 60-percent of trees there have been destroyed.

The pest has spread throughout southern California though the latest psyllid find was reported in Tulare county near Ivanhoe. Citrus Research Board chair Richard Bennett said, "Now we're worried that we cannot bring this bacterium toward the central valley. It may already be here. We haven't been able to detect it."

To help fight the spread, even backyard citrus growers need to be aware of HLB symptoms - misshapen bitter fruit and yellow leaves. Many valley trees were sprayed with pesticide after psyllid discoveries in traps though the pest was not found to carry huanglongbing. Bennett explained, "If we are not very careful and vigilant and do everything with great haste we could be in be in a terrible position and the US could be without citrus."

We have seen how the Ttamarixia Wasp was being used in southern California to control the ACP population, but Nelsen said the predator is not a valley option. "You can't do it in a commercial area because you have so many other pests that you have to treat for. Once you start treating for those pests, you wipe out the beneficial insect."

Growers will be stepping up treatment programs to keep all pest populations down.
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