California citrus industry sighs relief; no HLB found

09/18/2013 11:14:00 AM
Mike Hornick

Courtesy California Citrus MutualCalifornia state Sen. Andy Vidak, right, addresses a news conference on the Asian citrus psyllid Sept. 17 at a Berberian Ranches navel grove near Fowler. Joel Nelsen, center, president of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, looks on.Test results on a breeding population of Asian citrus psyllids found in Dinuba, Calif., have come back negative for huanglongbing, or citrus greening disease.

That’s raised hopes the state’s orange industry might dodge a bullet, even as it pushes new efforts to educate the public on the pest and the risk it poses.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture reported numerous psyllid detections on a Dinuba residential property in the second week of September.

“They can’t find any more psyllids in the immediate vicinity, and of the psyllids that they’ve tested, none are positive for huanglongbing,” said Joel Nelsen, president of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.

“The fact that so many were in an individual’s backyard is troubling, but just maybe we found it before the psyllid found commercial citrus,” he said. “That’s the hope. Yards have been sprayed, homeowners are all cooperating on inspections and the CDFA continues to do its survey work.”

Nelsen expects a 5-mile quarantine area to be announced by Sept. 23 with a mandatory spray program to follow. It’s not clear how much commercial acreage would be affected.

California Citrus Mutual, state Sen. Andy Vidak, county agricultural commissioners and others took their message on the importance of stopping the psyllid and HLB to a pair of news conferences Sept. 17 in Fowler and Bakersfield.

CDFA officials showed insect traps and demonstrated how to inspect trees for signs of the psyllid. Representatives of mainstream media attended.

“We got all four major (TV) networks in both locations, plus Spanish language and print media,” Nelsen said. “About 30 media outlets came.”

In the San Joaquin Valley, citrus is a $1.5 billion industry.

In Florida, HLB has caused billions of dollars in citrus losses. So far, just one case has been confirmed in California despite many psyllid detections. It was on a residential tree in Hacienda Heights near Los Angeles.

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