Nov. 6, 2012
By Monica Lara, OVN correspondent
There’s a killer in our midst.
Although the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP) hasn’t yet been spotted in the valley, the aphid-like insect has been found nearly everywhere else in Ventura County. ACPs are responsible for devastating the citrus industry in Florida and many other areas.
And because part of Ventura County has been quarantined by the California Department of Food & Agriculture (CDFA) since December 2010, Ojai Valley citrus growers sense is it no longer a matter of if, but when, the insect will be found locally.
“There really isn’t anything we can do but monitor for it,” said Jim Churchill, co-owner of Churchill-Brenneis Orchard. “The disease can be present for a couple of years before it shows up.”
Commercial growers, including Churchill-Brenneis, have had to take state-regulated precautions because of the quarantine. The CDFA has placed yellow sticky traps in every citrus grove and in select residential areas to detect the insect. There have been 38 sites in the county where ACPs have been detected since December 2010. Two in Fillmore were breeding sites and four were found in commercial groves, according to John Krist, CEO of the Farm Bureau of Ventura County (FBVC).
“This just means they have been here for a while,” Krist said.
ACPs feed off the leaves and stems of citrus trees and closely-related plants, such as orange jasmine and Indian curry. The insect is a serious threat because it spreads a bacteria that makes the infected fruit inedible.
Huanglongbing, or citrus greening disease, makes the fruit bitter and misshapen and eventually kills the plant. There is no cure for infected plants.
ACPs are infected for the rest of their lives once they eat from a tree infected with HLB. It then transmits the disease to healthy plants.
The FBVC estimates that Ventura County would cease to be a significant citrus producer within a decade if the pest and the disease cannot be contained. So far in Southern California, one tree infected with HLB has been found and destroyed in Hacienda Heights.
The county’s citrus industry generates about $510 million and supports more than 7,000 jobs, according to FBVC. Lemons, tangerines, oranges and grapefruits account for more than 24,000 acres, a quarter of the agricultural land in the county. It is estimated the Ojai Valley accounts for about 10 percent of the acreage.
“It’s not going to be cute for the people of Ojai,” said Tony Thacher, owner of Friend’s Ranches in Ojai. The Thacher family grows, packs and ships various citrus year round including oranges, tangerines and grapefruit.
Pesticide treatment is the only solution and is required by the state once ACPs are detected. If ACPs are found in a commercial grove, the plants within 800 meters have to be treated. The plants are treated in two ways: a soil drench and a topical treatment. If ACP is detected in a backyard plant, the state will pay for the plant, and neighboring plants, to be treated once the resident reports it the CDFA.
Beneficial bugs cannot be used to attack ACPs.
“Its just going to keep the insects to a low level and we need to kill them all,” Thacher said. “If we kill all of its food, it will die.”
For organic growers such as Churchill, the treatment risks killing beneficial bugs essential to maintaining pest control.
County residents are asked to report any ACP or HLB to the CDFA. ACP can be detected in the plant’s new growth where if prefers to feed in the spring and fall. HLB symptoms include fruit discoloration or misshapenness, and yellow shoots. Spreading the HLB can be prevented by using caution bringing citrus fruit into the area with leaves and stems, or when graphing plants.
For more information visit the California Department of Food & Agriculture Web site at www.cdfa.ca.gov.
Nov. 6, 2012