Joel Nelsen of California Citrus Mutual

Joel Nelsen, president, California Citrus Mutual, says the refusal by some people in the citrus industry to adhere to quarantine restrictions and best management practices could doom the industry.

Compliance failures could kill California citrus industry

Fresh citrus is worth over $2 billion to the California economy There are said to be more citrus trees growing in yards in the state than there are in commercial groves Spread of ACP and HLB in California can be traced to major transportation routes

(The following commentary is from Joel Nelsen, president of the Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, a voluntary trade association who's members represent a majority of the commercial citrus industry in the Golden State.)

"In recent weeks, the California Department of Food and Agriculture reported multiple Asian citrus psyllid finds at or near juice plants in Tulare County. Another report advised that a breeding population was discovered in a tree at a truck stop along Highway 99 in Tulare.

Based on this surge in activity, it is evident that the industry is failing to adhere to quarantine regulations and not following best practices for limiting the movement of plant material.

It’s no coincidence that these finds are occurring along major thoroughfares and at juice plants. Almost daily, bulk citrus loads are moving uncovered into the Central Valley from southern California. Packinghouses are sending dirty bins back into the groves. Equipment is being hauled up and down the highway loaded with plant material. 

If this continues, the industry will be the cause of its own demise. 

This sort of unfettered movement of plant material is unacceptable. Growers and packers alike must follow quarantine regulations and adhere to best practices in order to prevent further spread of the psyllid and Huanglongbing (HLB). 

Growers are paying a nine-cent-per-carton assessment, over $15 million annually, to fund the Citrus Pest and Disease Prevention Program in an effort to stop the spread of HLB. On top of that, the industry recently raised $8 million to build a containment facility in Riverside for HLB-specific research.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture sends over $10 million per year to California for similar research. The Citrus Research Board dedicates a sizeable portion of its budget for research on ACP and HLB. 

Individual negligence completely undermines the integrity of these programs and the financial investment by growers and the USDA. 

Everyone agrees ACP must be controlled and the spread of HLB must be stopped, but actions and the continual ACP finds say differently. There are individuals who think the rules designed to achieve these objectives don’t apply to them. It is the cumulative actions of these individuals that will eventually doom our industry.

Nearly $1 million is spent every year for homeowner outreach. Backyard citrus growers are a vital partner in this effort.

Last week, CDFA reported at a meeting in San Bernardino that less than 1 percent of affected homeowners in the county have opted out of treatment. This level of success is a testament to the work being done by the Citrus Pest and Disease Prevention Program. 

How can we ask a homeowner to treat their trees and cooperate with CDFA officials if the very industry funding this effort cannot comply with its own regulations?

The millions of dollars that have been invested will be wasted unless every individual member of the industry starts working together to stop the Asian citrus psyllid and Huanglongbing." 

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