CITRUS PSYLLID IS ONE BAD BUG

Are we going to allow some lousy little bug to destroy what’s left of our Inland Empire citrus groves?

Heck, no. We are going to fight the Asian Citrus Psyllid, and we are going to fight to win.

“The best way to protect California citrus is to inspect for
the pest,” says Ted Batkin, president of the California Citrus Research
Board.

The Asian Citrus Psyllid carries the fatal bacterium that
causes Huanglongbing (HLB), also called citrus greening disease. Trees
infected with HLB develop symptoms that include stunting, loss of
foliage, mottled leaves and excessive fruit drop. The diseased trees
produce hard, lopsided fruits that remain green, or partly green, with
bitter juice and flesh.

There is no cure.

“This could be the death knell for our citrus industry,” says
Bob Knight, founder of the Redlands-based Inland Orange Conservancy.

Since 2005 the insect has ravaged millions of acres of groves throughout Asia and the Middle
East, the Caribbean, South and Central America, and the southern United
States from Texas to Florida. Indeed, Florida’s citrus industry is
threatened with total extinction, as the insect has invaded every citrus
growing portion of the state.

In July 2008 the insect hopped the Mexico-U.S. border at Tijuana
and has advanced into Southern California. Quarantines are in effect in
Imperial, San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles counties.

The Inland Empire is seen as the last line of defense in terms
of preventing the insect from overwhelming all of Southern California’s
groves and threatening what still is a $1.2 billion annual citrus
industry in the state.

Experts stress that the Asian Citrus Psyllid is just as likely
to appear somewhere among the hundreds of thousands of citrus trees in
the yards of homeowners as among the orchards of commercial growers.

“We have what we call `party trees,’ where an infestation of
insects of all ages and stages of development are clustered in a single
tree,” Knight says. “Any single tree can become that tree. Any single
tree in anybody’s back yard can become the `Typhoid Mary’ tree that
wipes out our citrus industry.”

Homeowners are urged to inspect their citrus trees regularly.
The Asian Citrus Psyllid is a brownish, aphid-like insect that ranges in
size from one-eighth to one-sixteenth of an inch in length. It feeds on
bud shoots and the undersides of leaves, and while feeding it adopts a
distinctive tilted stance, with its head down and its rear lifted at a
45-degree angle.

The insect deposits waxy tubules of waste as it feeds, and
also emits a mist of so-called “honeydew” that encourages the growth of
sooty mold on leaves. The females lay their eggs, almond-shaped and
yellow-orange in color, on the tips of growing shoots and in the folds
of leaves.

If you think you have spotted an Asian Citrus Psyllid, act
fast. Call the California Department of Food and Agriculture hotline,
800-491-1899.