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Dreaded citrus pest found in Visalia. Officials gear up for pesticide spraying

More than 100 adult Asian citrus psyllids, invasive insects that measure about one-eighth of an inch long and can spread bacteria that can kill citrus trees, have been found in San Luis Obispo County in 2018.
More than 100 adult Asian citrus psyllids, invasive insects that measure about one-eighth of an inch long and can spread bacteria that can kill citrus trees, have been found in San Luis Obispo County in 2018. Associated Press

About 250 tiny pests with the potential to spread a deadly citrus disease have been found in a neighborhood north of Visalia, prompting state and local agriculture officials to take action.

The bug known as the Asian citrus psyllid was found in an insect trap hanging in a residential orange tree near Highway 63 and Houston Avenue. The insect measures about 1/8 of an inch.

Tom Tucker, assistant agriculture commissioner for Tulare County, said the initial find occurred in late October and a follow-up survey found dozens more, up to 250 psyllids, in several orange and a lemon trees in the neighborhood.

“There were live bugs and several nymphs on the trees,” Tucker said.

The insects were sent to the California Department of Food and Agriculture for testing. None tested positive for the disease, Tucker said.

As part of the state’s treatment plans, additional insect traps were placed about 430 yards from the initial find. The infested trees were also sprayed with a pesticide. Additional spraying will take place in the coming days.

Tucker said the state will schedule a public meeting in the area to let residents know about the discovery of the insects and the state’s plan to get rid of it.

A spray will be applied to any citrus trees within the designated area of about 430 yards. Tucker said that along with a public meeting, residents will also receive 48-hours notice before any pesticide treatment begins.

For several years, California’s multi-billion-dollar citrus industry has been on high alert for any signs of the bug and the dreaded disease, Huanglongbing, it can carry.

So far, the disease has not been found in San Joaquin Valley’s citrus belt, but it has been found in backyard citrus trees in the Los Angeles area.

California citrus growers know all too well the devastation the disease has done to Florida’s citrus industry where growers have lost thousands of orange trees.

Nationwide, orange acreage is down almost 40 percent from its high of 20 years ago, with Florida, the nation’s orange juice king, suffering the biggest drop in acreage.

For more information about the psyllid, you can visit the state’s website, www.cdfa.ca.gov.

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