Citrus quarantine widens: Can it save California orange growers?

Citrus quarantine: California now has 746 square miles under a citrus quarantine to try to protect growers from the Asian citrus psyllid. The pest spreads "citrus greening" which has devastated Florida orange growers.

California officials have expanded a quarantine for a tiny pest that is potentially fatal to citrus trees.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture said on Friday it has added 13 square miles to the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP) quarantine in Tulare County after a psyllid was found in that area. The additional territory is west of Porterville.

In total, 746 square miles are now under quarantine in Tulare County because of concerns about the pest. Other parts of the state are also under quarantine, including nearby portions of Fresno and Kern counties, as well as Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Ventura Counties.

The psyllid can carry a bacteria that is deadly to citrus trees. The ACP worries farmers because it can carry the disease huanglongbing (HLB), also known as citrus greening.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture states:

HLB is known to be present in Mexico and in parts of the southern U.S.  Florida first detected the pest in 1998 and the disease in 2005, and the two have been detected in all 30 citrus-producing counties in that state.  The University of Florida estimates the disease has tallied more than 6,600 lost jobs, $1.3 billion in lost revenue to growers and $3.6 billion in lost economic activity.  The disease is present in Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Texas.  The states of Alabama, Arizona, Hawaii, and Mississippi have detected the pest but not the disease.

In California so far only one psyllid has tested positive for the bacteria.

The quarantine prohibits the movement of nursery stock. It also requires that citrus fruit be cleaned of leaves and stems.

Florida citrus growers have invested some $70 million into finding a way to combat HLB in the past five years, Wayne Simmons, head of LaBelle Fruit Co. and president of Gulf Citrus Growers Association told News-Press.com.  Still, the state’s harvest keeps declining, from 150 million boxes last year to 121 million in the most recent forecast. The Farm Bill passed by Congress this past week includes $125 million in federal funds for research into stopping citrus greening.

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