City Council learns of threat to area citrus industry

May 26, 2010
Santa Paula City Council

If a tiny pest is left unchecked, the City Council was told, there won’t be any citrus left for the annual Kiwanis Club Citrus Festival to celebrate.

Ventura County Farm Bureau President Leslie Leavens-Crow told the council at the May 17 meeting that Asian citrus psyllid (ACP) and the Huanglongbing (HLB) disease it is destined to carry, “is not good news” for the citrus rich county.

Leavens-Crow, whose family “has been farming in this valley for about 100 years,” asked for a show of hands of those who have trees in their yards. “In five to 10 years,” she noted, “all your trees could be dying; not only your tree, but trees in all the orchards all over Ventura County.”

The aphid-like pest and its disease, also known as citrus greening disease, has already struck Florida, where it is destroying the state’s vast citrus orchards. Leavens-Crow said the adult pest is “about the size of a grain of rice” that has destroyed a million trees on 250,000 acres of Florida orchards. “There is no cure; the only thing they can do at this point is cut the tree out and burn it.”

Although Southern California does not yet have HLB, the potential carrier has been discovered as close as Van Nuys, about seven miles from the Ventura County line. Leavens-Crow said, “Nearly every county south of Ventura County is under partial or full” quarantine.

The pest is usually found first in backyard trees, and “Historically, HLB shows up about two years after the pest is found.” When the ACP is found the state sends a team to treat the area including a soil drench, a systemic treatment that is not harmful to humans or the fruit.

“What’s at stake? The Citrus Festival,” as citrus accounts for “fully a quarter of Ventura County’s irrigated land,” and more than 7,000 jobs. “I can’t overstate the impact” that HLB “would have here in Santa Paula... in addition to commercial areas, everybody’s backyard tree would be at risk.”

The Department of Food & Agriculture and the local Agricultural Commissioners and others have formed partnerships with other bureaus and growers to conduct research and study methods to eradicate the pest. Each and every find of ACP is tested to determine if the pest is carrying HLB.

“What can you do? First of all, don’t move plants or fruit into Ventura County,” an act Leavens-Crow described as “dangerous” to the future of citrus. “If you want to buy a tree for the backyard use a nursery,” not a swap meet.

The Agricultural Commissioner’s Office and the nursery industry, she noted, have an aggressive inspection program that includes tagging trees. In addition, all tree owners should conduct their own inspections to forestall the preference ACP has for the “first flush of growth.”

Those who might find a suspicious pest or who need more information are asked to call the Agricultural Commissioner’s Office at 933-2926. “And please support efforts to kill this pest; this is like nothing we’ve come across before... this is who are in Ventura County and Santa Paula.” Citrus, said Leavens-Crow, “is our lifestyle, our landscape and our very heritage.”

Vice Mayor Fred Robinson asked if ACP has “any natural enemies.” “No,” said Leavens-Crow, and in Ventura County “We need to kill every single one of them as soon as they are found.”

Although some research is focused on genetically modifying trees to make them immune to HLB, results, she said, are at least a decade away.


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