California citrus industry leaders, researchers and government officials met on Friday with state Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, to provide an update on the ongoing battle against the citrus industry’s most feared pest: the Asian citrus psyllid.
Galgiani said that as chair of the committee she wanted a better understanding of what is being done to fight the pest that threatens California’s $2.4 billion citrus industry.
“This is a long-term issue plaguing the Central Valley and I am committed to working with stakeholders, local and federal government as well as researchers throughout the state,” she said. “Both Texas and Florida are in a losing battle to protect their industries and it is imperative that California continues the battle against this type of devastation through detection, education and research.”
Citrus farmers are fighting the psyllids because of its potential to carry huanglongbing, a deadly plant disease that is also known as citrus greening. Infected trees produce bitter, misshapen fruit and eventually die. The tiny pest has caused about $1.3 billion in damage in Florida in recent years.
Experts who spoke at a hearing Friday in Modesto told Galgiani about the latest research, including use of beneficial wasps; the partnerships between the federal, state and county governments; and how the industry is funding much of the work to detect and kill the pest.
Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual in Exeter, said farmers have contributed $15 million to the state’s Asian citrus psyllid program.
“This is a massive program, and I think she understood how far-reaching it is,” Nelsen said.
The state has placed quarantines throughout Southern California, in all of Tulare County and in parts of Fresno, Kern, San Luis Obispo and Santa Clara counties. Last month, one psyllid was trapped in Manteca and another in Lodi, both in residential areas. Quarantines totaling 200 square miles were placed around the cities, barring the movement outside the boundaries of citrus nursery plants or of fruit that still has stems and leaves attached.
Nelsen and citrus grower Nick Hill also expressed their frustration over the lengthy process for finding a cure for the disease.
“It is a battle and we understand everyone is doing what they can,” Hill said. “But growers also want some solutions.”
Nelsen said that until scientists can find a cure, the industry is going to have to continue funding a very expensive program of insect trapping and chemical treatments.