Growers continue to battle psyllids

10/24/2013 04:29:00 PM
Tom Burfield

The number of Asian citrus psyllid quarantine zones in California’s major citrus growing areas had risen to four by mid-October.

But while several finds of Asian citrus psyllids have been reported, no instances of greening disease, also known as huanglongbing or HLB, had been reported in the San Joaquin Valley.

Under quarantine were 90 square miles around Dinuba, 88 square miles around Wasco, 178 square miles around Porterville and five square miles in Exeter.

Meanwhile, California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill in October that would have appropriated $5 million each year from the state’s general fund to fight citrus diseases and the pests that spread them.

In his veto message, Brown acknowledged “the devastating effects of the Asian citrus psyllid and its vector huanglongbing,” but he said efforts to fight the pest and the disease have mostly been funded by the citrus industry and the federal government.

“If the current support is inadequate, let’s review our options during the budget process,” he wrote.

HLB has caused billions of dollars in citrus losses in Florida, but so far in California, just one case has been confirmed.

That find was reported last year in a residential tree in Hacienda Heights, several miles east of Los Angeles and far south of the San Joaquin Valley citrus groves.

Jim Cranney, president of the California Citrus Quality Council in Auburn, said the industry assumes that there are other infected sites.

“No one thinks the (Hacienda Heights) tree was the only one,” he said.

That’s because people coming into the state may bring illegal, potentially infected plant material from overseas or from other states.

“The population is very mobile,” he said.

The California Citrus Pest Disease Management program provides about $15 million funded primarily by an 8-cents-per-carton assessment on growers to fight the disease and the psyllid, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service provides the state with about $10 million through its Citrus Health Response Program.

“It’s an extremely high priority for the industry,” Cranney said.

He hopes that lessons learned from the outbreak in Florida can stave off citrus greening disease in California at least until a long-term solution can be found.

“As long as we take advantage of opportunities that are out there for finding the psyllid, finding the disease, working in cooperation with government and industry and everybody pulling in the same direction, I think we can really be successful,” Cranney said.

Research efforts

Even private companies are getting involved.

Bayer CropScience has announced collaboration with the Florida Specialty Crop Foundation to create a three-year grant program for citrus greening research.

The $200,000 grant was awarded to the Citrus Research and Development Foundation.

The benefits of the grant will extend far beyond Florida, said Steve Olson, Bayer CropScience brand manager for the insecticide portfolio.

Any cure or benefits that help sustain the citrus industry would be applicable to most growing areas.

Extensive research to find a long-term solution to the problem is probably best left to academia or the industry, rather than just one private company, he said.

“There is nothing that I am aware of at this time that will control HLB,” Olson said, but Bayer CropScience is screening compounds that might have a direct effect on bacteria by fighting psyllids or HLB.

“We have a portfolio of products that are already targeted for the Asian citrus psyllid,” he said, that includes Movento and Admire Pro.

A new product currently is under review by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Work also is ongoing to determine what might be done to extend longevity of tree life, even if they develop the disease, Olson said.



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