California’s $2 billion dollar citrus industry has friends in high places. Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual could not be more pleased.
“We are just ecstatic that someone in Sacramento cares enough about jobs to make sure that we don’t lose everything because of this exotic pest,” Nelsen said in reaction to passage of an important piece of state legislation.
At two press events earlier this week, Nelsen and citrus grower Nick Hill joined California State Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, to educate residents through local media about the Asian citrus psyllid  (ACP) and Huanglongbing (HLB). The events were also used to publicly call on Gov. Jerry Brown to sign legislation giving growers more money to combat the ACP and HLB.
Vidak’s Central California district includes the Dinuba area, where several residential citrus trees infested with psyllids were discovered last week. Those trees have since been treated.
Not only is Hill’s desire to fight the ACP borne out of a common cause among his fellow citrus growers, but the latest ACP find in the Dinuba neighborhood is just a couple miles from one of Hill’s citrus groves. Because of the large number of psyllids and nymphs discovered on several residential trees, the California Department of Food and Agriculture will establish a quarantine zone that could cover about 100 square miles in Tulare and Fresno counties.
“That means my groves will be entirely within the new quarantine area,” Hill said.
Assembly Bill 571
Introduced earlier this year by California Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, whose district includes Burbank, Glendale, Hollywood and other Los Angeles basin cities, Assembly Bill 571 provides $5 million from the state’s general fund to the California Citrus Pest and Disease Prevention Program (CCPDPP). Created in 2009, the program is funded primarily by a grower assessment of nine cents per 40-pound citrus box. That assessment generates about $15 million per year.
The program also receives $10 million a year from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Program funding is managed by a committee of citrus growers. Hill is the chairman of that committee.
The bill unanimously passed both houses of the California Legislature and awaits approval by Gov. Brown.
Interestingly, Gatto did not come across this idea through a visit from constituents. It was borne out of watching two major industries in southern California – aerospace and the entertainment industry – either leave altogether, or downsize operations in the Golden State.
“It really hurt everybody in town because everybody depended on those jobs,” he said of the aerospace industry.
“With the entertainment industry fleeing California we’ve lost a bunch of entertainment jobs as well,” he continued. “So the more I read about what agriculture does for California and how many people it employs, and about the citrus industry in particular, I thought that we just cannot afford to lose another signature industry in California that employs so many people. I just thought this was the right thing to do.”
Until Gatto entered office three years ago he had never heard of HLB. However, in meetings with citrus growers around the time of his election he was made aware of the disease.
Gatto may appear in public service announcements that may soon be filmed to help residents understand the dangers related to the ACP and HLB and why it is so important to win this battle.
Citrus is a $2 billion industry in California that contributes an additional $1.2 billion in economic value to the state. It supports 14,000 direct jobs and another 10,000 indirect jobs in the state. The California citrus industry contributes 82 percent of fresh citrus grown in the United States.
NOTE: Western Farm Press recently established a dedicated web page with stories carrying news, identification tips, treatment and control measures related to the Asian citrus psyllid . Be sure to continually check this page as information will be updated regularly.
Follow me on Twitter @ToddFitchette