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Save Our Citrus: The Fight Against Citrus Disease Begins In Your Own Backyard

Save Our Citrus: The Fight Against Citrus Disease Begins In Your Own Backyard

California growers have worked diligently to protect their crops – the last disease-free citrus in the world – from the pest that spreads the devastating disease known as Hounglong Bing or citrus greening.

But despite their efforts, the real front in the war against the psyllid begins in your own backyard. The Citrus Pest & Disease Prevention Program (CPDPP) is working to raise awareness of the disease and the pest that spreads it, the Asian citrus psyllid, among residential property owners. The issue is especially important for Tulare County residents because many of them live within a restricted area following the discovery of three psyllids in three separate parts of the county last year.

The Tulare County Agriculture Commissioner’s Office confirmed ACPs were found in orchards outside of Lindsay on Feb. 11 and then Strathmore on Nov. 19 and outside of Terra Bella on Nov. 21. The pests were found on traps actually designed to catch glassy-winged sharpshooters, a pest carrying the grape killing canker disease. All traps are tested primarily for the grape best and then a second time for the citrus pest. In response to the finds, the California Department of Food and Agriculture declared an area totaling more than 1,600 acres and 163-square miles as part of the Tulare County restricted zones.

The CPDPP has come up with the following list of tips for residential citrus tree owners:

– Don’t move citrus: Do not move citrus plants, plant material or fruit in or out of quarantine or restricted areas, across state or international borders.

– Inspect your trees: Inspect your citrus trees monthly, and whenever watering, spraying, pruning or tending trees, for signs of HLB and the psyllid.

– Plant responsibly: Plant trees from reputable, licensed California nurseries.

– Talk to your local nursery: Ask about products that are available to help stop a psyllid infestation.

– Graft with care: Use only registered budwood that comes with source documentation.

– Be mindful of clippings: Dry or double bag plant clippings prior to disposal to avoid moving psyllids and HLB-infected plant materials.

– Cooperate: Cooperate with agriculture officials on detection and suppression efforts of the Asian citrus psyllid and HLB.

Residential residents play an important role in protecting one of California’s top crops. Nearly all of psyllids found are discovered in urban/residential areas in backyard citrus trees and about 60% off California property owners have citrus trees on their property.

The only confirmed case of HLB was found in a residential area of Hacienda Heights, a suburb of Los Angeles, in March 2012. The disease represents a serious threat to Tulare County’s overall economy, as citrus is the California’s No. 1 export and Tulare County is the state’s No. 1 citrus producing county. Tulare County is home to over 100,000 acres of citrus, 60 citrus packinghouses and four citrus juice plants. Tulare County citrus represents about $700 million annually of the state’s $1.88 billion industry.

CPDPP was established by AB 281 in 2009 as an industry-funded program to assist in combating citrus-specific diseases, vectors and pests, when found in California. CPDPP recommends using two pesticides to treat for ACP. The first is called Cyfluthrin, a synthetic pyrethroid pesticide used to control common pests such as ants, cockroaches and fleas. A highly diluted form is used to treat plants to minimize the risk of exposure to people. Cyfluthrin poisoning in people is not common but exposure to large amounts of the concentrated version can be fatal. The diluted formula can cause skin and eye irritation with possible temporary symptoms of tremors, tingling skin sensations, weakness and lack of muscular coordination. No lasting effects are reported in individuals who have recovered after serious poisoning.

The other is called Imidacloprid, a chloro-nicotinyl compound related to nicotine. It is useful against insect pests such as psyllids, leafhoppers, aphids and thrips that use their mouth to penetrate plant material and draw out nutrients. There have been no reported cases of people being poisoned through the application onto plants. Toxicologists say, based on its mechanism, it could cause muscle weakness, cramps and fatigue.

The CDFA is placing traps around California in residential areas to detect and react to the spread of the Asia citrus psyllid and HLB. If a psyllid is found, CDFA will treat the tree and surrounding trees in the area. If HLB is detected, the tree must be removed so pysllids cannot transmit the disease to nearby trees. If you suspect your tree has the psyllid or HLB call the California Department of Food and Agriculture Hotline at 1-800-491-1899. For more information, visit CaliforniaCitrusThreat.org where you can also download the Save Our Citrus smartphone app to help you identify and report the pest and disease.

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