California citrus ripens in the sun

California citrus ripens in the sun.

Will the Asian citrus psyllid be Gov. Brown's Medfly 2.0?

“Go through the budget process,” California Governor Jerry Brown said. “We can address it there.”

Except the state will not address it anywhere in the $156 billion budget which Gov. Brown will sign now that legislators have passed it along for his approval.

You may recall last year’s efforts by the California citrus industry to get state dollars for Asian citrus psyllid control programs. California Citrus Mutual (CCM) worked with Assemblyman Mike Gatto on a plan to appropriate $5 million for biological control efforts in southern California.

Though the bill enjoyed unanimous support in both houses of the California Legislature – not always an easy task – Gov. Brown vetoed the Gatto bill, telling proponents in his veto message that the state budget process was the more appropriate place for those kinds of requests.

Taking the Governor’s suggestion to heart, CCM worked through the legislative budget process to get $2 million for urban trapping and ACP sampling efforts. Unfortunately, this line item was removed at the last minute, according to CCM President Joel Nelsen.

Apparently the Democratic leadership had better things to spend $2 million on than controlling an invasive pest that could wipe out California citrus, if not controlled. It's rather ironic since a measure twice as expensive enjoyed full legislative support earlier in the session.

We spoke with Assemblyman Gatto on the phone about his bill when it was debated. Gatto is well-spoken and articulate in his explanation on why the funding is necessary.

Gatto was a good choice to carry the legislation since his urban LA-basin district likely contains some of the oldest citrus trees in California. The region, from north Los Angeles through Pasadena and La Cañada Flintridge, probably contains as many citrus trees in yards and parks as do all commercial groves in Tulare County, Calif.

Gatto’s efforts to garner bipartisan, unanimous consensus on the measure were praiseworthy but sadly insufficient to sway the Governor’s opinion on the matter.

Leadership disappointment

In my opinion, Gov. Brown has a disappointing record in California on addressing invasive species. It was Gov. Brown back in his version 1.0 days as Governor who failed in efforts to control the Mediterranean fruit fly discovered in 1980. 

His aerial spraying plan never got off the ground. Some believe Brown’s failed bid for a U.S. Senate seat was blamed on ineffective Medfly efforts.

Gov. Brown’s popularity fell as citizens feared losing the state’s $14 billion ag economy to a fly not native to the U.S.

Today, the state’s agricultural economy grosses more than $40 billion and generates about $100 billion in economic activity for California. Yet we still fight invasive pests that manage to infiltrate our borders.

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It’s not as if the California citrus industry is asking for money to fly biplanes over populated regions to drop chemicals in an attempt to control the ACP.

The industry is asking elected leaders to follow Florida's example, approving $9 million for research and ground efforts to stop the psyllid, and the deadly Huanglongbing disease it carries, from making that state’s citrus industry a footnote in the history books.

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