9/1/2014

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Local & Regional

Citrus pest battled near homes, in orchards

Citrus pest battled near homes, in orchards

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — The fight is back in full force against a serious threat to Kern County's important citrus industry. The battle against the Asian citrus psyllid is being waged both around homes and in citrus orchards.

"This is the most threatening thing that we've ever faced in our industry," citrus grower John Gless told Eyewitness News on Tuesday. He said farmers are doing everything they can, and he urged residents to do the same.

The ACP first started showing up in parts of California a few years ago. The tiny bug can carry the disease that's deadly to all types of citrus.

"HLB, huanglongbing, that is the disease that usually follows high populations of psyllid," Gless explained. "That's why it's so important to keep these populations down."

On Tuesday, Kern County Ag Commission Tech Margo Crawford was part of that effort. She was replacing a bright yellow sticky trap in an orange tree in northeast Bakersfield. The ag office has 2,500 traps out, specifically to check for the citrus psyllid.

"I take care of 500 of them every month," Crawford said.

She put up one trap, and took down the previous one. It was filled with insects of different sizes, and they'll be analyzed by a biologist. The psyllid are very small, but very big trouble.

"All citrus and closely related species are susceptible hosts for both the insect and the disease," reads a statement from the California Department of Food and Agriculture. "There is no cure once a tree becomes infected. The diseased tree will decline in health until it dies."

"Stopping the pest will stop the disease," Kern County Supervising Agricultural Biologist Myron Kimmel said. That's why they're watching for the bugs. So far, one turned up last year at the southwest edge of Wasco, but the disease wasn't found. A quarantine zone's been set up there.

Another quarantine zone takes in a very northern part of Kern County near Highway 65, after another psyllid was found in Tulare County. These were both in homeowner's trees, not commercial groves.

"In the quarantine areas they're going through and they're spraying the trees, and monitoring the trees to make sure that the pest doesn't come back," Kimmel said. He adds that work is being done through the state's ag agency.

A state ag spokesman tells Eyewitness News no new psyllid have been found in these two areas, and that's a "positive development." He also stresses no commercial citrus operations are affected by the quarantine areas.

Meanwhile, just a couple weeks ago one psyllid was found over in San Luis Obispo County near Arroyo Grande. Again a quarantine zone was set up.

In those zones, people with backyard citrus trees are asked not to transport fruit, citrus leaves or potted trees.

Other areas have seen more finds of the psyllid, and quarantines are also in place in Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties. The only place in California where the disease has been spotted was a Los Angeles suburb.

Gless said this pest and the disease it spreads have wiped out 300,000 acres of citrus in Florida over the last nine years, and 22 million trees have been lost in Brazil.

The grower says Kern County citrus operations are also doing everything possible to protect against the bugs and disease.

"There's a lot of large growers that are on very aggressive spraying programs," Gless said. They can put out materials that will kill the pests, just in case they are in an orchard. Growers are also watching for any sign of the psyllid.

Meanwhile, the ag commission just started their neighborhood trapping for the season, and that will run through October. Myron Kimmel said they have six workers on the project, and the program costs $100,000 a year. He said the money comes from the state and federal government, which is funded by a fee citrus growers pay per carton of fruit.

Kimmel said homeowners are asked if a trap can be put in their tree, and the trap is free to the resident.

"We appreciate the home-owners allowing us to put the traps in the trees," Kimmel said.

Gless agrees wholeheartedly with that. He also asks that residents cooperate with ag officials, and allow spraying for the psyllid if that's necessary.

And, Gless said keeping watch is the only way to protect the citrus industry from the devastating pest. He says the bugs are hitch-hikers, and that's how they can get here.

"So, it's very important that you don't bring anything, any plant material from Southern California into the Central Valley," Gless said. "Because that's how they're going to get here."

He hopes that won't happen.

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