Citrus greening disease

Winning battle against ACP/HLB will take effort

California’s recent discovery of another citrus tree infected with Huanglongbing is perhaps the “game-changer” the industry long-expected but hoped against.

The announcement that a second citrus tree was discovered in a suburban Los Angeles neighborhood to have the deadly bacterial disease comes as no surprise to those paying attention to the issue.

Given that it was about 15 miles from the 2012 Hacienda Heights find it portends the likelihood that other trees are infected in the San Gabriel Valley.

Knowing we have the disease means we can’t hide behind hope anymore. Slowing the spread of the disease is paramount to saving California’s multi-billion citrus industry.

The hardest part in this battle isn’t with convincing growers there’s a problem, though impromptu surveys conducted by university researchers at grower meetings still painfully point out that not all growers believe ACP/HLB is a problem. The issue is the safe-havens created in residential neighborhoods that are largely untreated for any citrus pest or disease.

Still, that doesn’t let farmers off the hook.

Florida discovered the Asian citrus psyllid in 1998. According to citrus industry officials familiar with the issue in Florida the ACP was first thought to be an inconsequential pest during flush. History proves how wrong that assessment was.

Seven years after finding the pest in Florida the disease it carries was found. Today HLB is found in every county in Florida.

California is trying to prevent the same catastrophe from wiping out its iconic industry as the span between first finding the ACP and then HLB in California is four years.

HLB was first discovered in California in 2012 but has spread much more slowly across the state, or so it seems. I’ve asked several citrus experts and entomologists how California managed to dodge the same HLB bullet and they admit they do not fully understand why.

There is a belief among some researchers, and I’m inclined to believe the one who first suggested it to me, that we may be on the cusp of additional HLB discoveries in California in the coming months. The San Gabriel Valley discovery illustrates just how right this one researcher could be.

State inspectors continue to target known high-risk areas for HLB. While these include the San Gabriel Valley and other parts of southern California an additional area of concern lurks on the edge of the state’s commercial citrus belt in Tulare County.

Because the ACP is well-established in southern California efforts there continue to inform residents about the dangers of the pest and the disease. The San Diego-based public relations firm Nuffer, Smith, Tucker has been employed by the State of California to help spread the word to homeowners.

According to Teresa Siles, vice president at Nuffer, Smith, Tucker, residents in the San Gabriel Valley are being targeted with direct mailers and other media regarding the pest and the disease. This is in addition to general statewide programs in multiple languages to help residents and nursery operators better understand the dangers of the psyllid.

It will take a massive effort on all of our parts to help people understand why it is critically important to keep invasive pests like this and others out of California. I’ve personally taken it upon myself to ask people I know if they have citrus in their yard and have even offered to look at their trees for possible signs of ACP or HLB. I’m not an expert though I am educated on what to look for. Most importantly, I know who to call if I spot something.

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