The Fight Against the Asian Citrus Psyllid

California Citrus Mutual on the Fight Against the Asian Citrus Psyllid and HLB

By Laurie Greene, Editor

On Saturday, June 4, 2016, Patrick Cavanaugh, California Ag Today’s farm news director, hosted iHeart Media’s Ag Life Weekend show on “Power Talk 96.7 FM Fresno and 1400 AM Visalia stations, sitting in for broadcaster Rich Rodriguez. Cavanaugh’s invited guests included Alyssa Houtby, director of public affairs, and Chris Stambach, director of industry relations for the Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, to discuss the status of the state’s citrus industry amidst the ACP and HLB Infestation.Ag Life Weekend

The Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP), certainly the number one pest for California citrus, can spread a bacterium known as Huanglongbing (HLB) that is fatal to citrus trees. As of 2016, 22 trees in the state have been infected with the fatal disease and had to be destroyed. The entire citrus industry of California has been and continues to be concerned that the ACP could take down the citrus industry, as it has in Florida.

Alyssa Houtby explained that the fight against ACP in California “is going well, we hope. The Florida citrus industry has been completely decimated by HLB; an estimated 90 percent of their acreage is infested with this disease.”

Asian Citrus Psyllid Evidence on New Growth (Source: California Ag Today
Asian Citrus Psyllid Evidence on New Growth (Source: California Ag Today)

“Here in California,” Houtby continued, “we saw it crop up in residential citrus before we saw it in commercial citrus. All of the HLB finds, to date, have been in the Los Angeles Basin.” Houtby said they are working diligently to keep the psyllid population down to decrease the exposure of trees to HLB.

The California citrus industry spends approximately $15 million annually on an ACP assessment program, which includes extensive public outreach. Part of the research entails trapping the pest, conducting survey work in the regions in question, applying treatments in residential areas, and managing a delimitation survey around the area of Los Angeles where the disease has populated.

“That means that we’re scouting very consistently,” explained Houtby, “looking for other trees with the disease and pulling those trees out as soon as we find them. We are doing everything we can here in California to keep the pest and disease from spreading—now that we have it,” she noted.

Alyssa Houtby, director of public affairs, California Citrus Mutual
Alyssa Houtby, director of public affairs, California Citrus Mutual

“The California industry has always been one to use a proactive approach,” Houtby elaborated. “We saw what happened in Florida, and we realized really early on that we couldn’t stand by and wait for this disease to find us. We had to actively go look for it and find it—before it found commercial citrus—and we’ve done that.” Regarding the 22 trees in the state that have been destroyed thus far, Houtby said, “It could be a lot worse if we weren’t as proactive as we are.”

When locating a positive ACP find in a residential area, Houtby noted, generally speaking, homeowners have mostly been compliant. “There are pockets in this state where folks don’t like government coming in, knocking on their door and asking to spray their trees with pesticides. We understand that. It’s an opt-in/opt-out scenario here. We’re not forcing homeowners in most cases to treat their trees.”

Chris Stambach
Chris Stambach, director of industry relations for California Citrus Mutual

“But that’s a different situation if HLB is present,” she emphasized. “Then we do. We get a warrant, and we go in and treat the surrounding trees. If we’re treating in response to an ACP find, homeowners can opt out, but overwhelmingly, they don’t. They support our program. They understand that citrus is a part of the California heritage, they like their citrus trees, and they want to keep them in their yards. They understand that the alternative to not treating is that tree will eventually die if it becomes infected. We’ve worked really hard to communicate to the general public about the seriousness of this issue. We’re pleased with the results.” Houtby said.

Chris Stambach discussed the importance of homeowners having a general understanding of the ACP, so if they find something unusual in their citrus tree, they know to call the local ag commissioner.

Stambach detailed ACP and HLB specifications to increase homeowners’ understanding about their beloved citrus trees. “HLB is symptomatic, but it takes a long time for those symptoms to show up in the tree,” said Stambach. “You really have to know what you’re looking for because some fertilizer deficiency issues in the tree will mimic what HLB looks like.”

“Though the ACP is a really tiny little bug, there are some key signs the public can look for,” explained Stambach. “You want to look for that psyllid and the little tubules it excretes on the new flush of growth—pretty much right there at the end of the terminals where all that new growth comes in the springtime and in the fall. That’s key to California, because there are only certain times of the year when that ACP is actively feeding on the citrus tree.”

California has a real benefit over the Sunshine State, where they have to spray 12 times a year to keep the psyllids at bay. “It hasn’t been effective for [Florida],” noted Stambach. “We had a couple of growers out this last winter to our Citrus Showcase. They planted new trees, 4 years old, and although they spray 12 times a year, their orchards are 100% infected with HLB. That’s the devastation that this insidious disease can bring. It’s really difficult to get your hands around it because it takes so long to be able to detect it.”

Another benefit for California citrus, according to Houtby, is, “We have a lot of areas in the state where we don’t have to spray at all because we can use beneficial insects. That’s just the great part about farming in California.”

Asian Citrus Psyllic Yellow Trap 2 (Source: Citrus Pest & Disease Prevention Program)
Asian Citrus Psyllic Yellow Trap (Source: Citrus Pest & Disease Prevention Program)

Houtby and her team often look to Florida for ideas and recommendations on what has worked for them, what hasn’t and what citrus growers here can do to prevent the disease from taking hold of their citrus. She clarified that 90 percent of the Florida citrus market is used for juice production; whereas, California is a “fresh-oriented industry, meaning that over 90 percent of our product goes into the fresh market.”

Although California citrus looks for recommendations from Florida, “here in California, there are a lot of things that we can’t afford to do because of the [fresh] market that we’re serving,” said Houtby.”  That is what we’re fighting so hard to maintain because we cannot sustain as long as Florida has; we don’t have the luxury of sending a bad-looking piece of fruit into the marketplace like Florida can, because they just juice it. Knowing that, we’re working really hard to never get to the point that Florida has reached.”

As if the dire situation in Florida couldn’t be any worse, they battled with “another deadly bacterial-based citrus disease, citrus canker, brought in from the far reaches of the world,” Stambach said. “That’s a concern we always have with importing citrus. When we import Argentine lemons, for example, we risk our domestic plant health by exposing orchards to a lot of plant diseases they have that we don’t. We want to keep those out of our country,” noted Stambach.

Abandoned citrus trees also pose problems for the industry; they can be sanctuaries for ACP. “If those trees are dead, that’s not a problem. They may look bad, but if they are not living, that’s not a problem. It’s when those trees aren’t cared for, aren’t sprayed in a normal routine, and there is a flush of new growth, the trees provide a sanctuary for the psyllids,” he said.

Abandoned Citrus
Abandoned Citrus

“And ACP are very good at finding citrus. They’ll target the perimeters of new growth on the very first citrus they find. Boom, they’re right on it,” he noted.

“Those abandoned groves create a real problem, particularly when they’re in close proximity to other commercial acreage or even homeowners,” he said. Neglected neighborhood citrus trees can become ACP sanctuaries. “ACPs will feed on them and move on to another tree, and feed there,” Stambach explained. “All that time, if an ACP is infected with the HLB bacteria, it will spread that disease, with a latency period of 2 to 5 years.”

Stambach and his team are working on a critical program in Southern California to remove abandoned citrus trees. “Sometimes it’s just getting a hold of the landowner and making them aware of the situation,” he said. “Our county ag commissioners are really key in contacting those people. We’ve had growers go in and spray their neighbor’s orchard to help them out. There are a lot of different ways to attack that problem.”

Compared to counties in the San Joaquin Valley, Riverside and Ventura Counties typically have a big-ag urban interface, which means there is a lot of acreage intermixed with home sites—small homes with citrus trees. Stambach said, “It’s not really commercial production, but it’s a significant amount of acreage with a number of trees that don’t get treated.”

“We’ve gotten some support from some of our partners in the chemical industry. Bayer CropScience has stepped up and worked with us to put together a program. We’re really happy. We’re working hard to take [ACP and HLB] out.” Stambach said.

“Fresno has even found ACPs in residential areas,” commented Houtby on the Central Valley situation. “ACPs are endemic in Southern California, but we’re still at a point in the Central Valley at which we can control these populations and knock them down really quickly when they arrive here.”CA Citrus Mutual

Houtby points to the Central Valley’s vulnerability when citrus plant material is moved over the grapevine or from the Central Coast. “We ask that homeowners, and the citrus industry as well, not move plant material out of Southern California into the Central Valley,” she stated. “The psyllid lives on that plant material and not on the fruit. If you’re going to buy a citrus tree, buy it at a local plant nursery or a local Home Depot or Lowe’s. Don’t buy it in Southern California and drive it to the Central San Joaquin Valley,” she urged.

“Our biggest task for homeowners is that they cooperate when the California Department of Food and Agriculture knocks on the door and wants to look at their trees,” Stambach said. “That is the best way you can help us win this battle against the ACP.”

Homeowners can learn how to protect their citrus trees at:

CaliforniaCitrusThreat.org

U.S. Department of Agriculture

California Department of Food and Agriculture

University of California Cooperative Extension

Contributors to this report include Patrick Cavanaugh and Emily McKay Johnson.

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New Citrus PSA Shows Homeowners HLB Threat

New Citrus PSA Shows Homeowners HLB Threat

By Charmayne Hefley, Associate Editor

Without the involvement and aid of backyard citrus growers to prevent the spread of the invasive Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP) and the citrus-deadly Huanglongbing (HLB) disease vectored by the ACP, consumers would no longer have the opportunity to enjoy fresh citrus. Deadly Plant Disease Threatens California Citrus, the newest public service announcement (PSA) from California Citrus Pest Disease and Prevention Program (CCPDPP) conveys this message to residential citrus growers, according to Joel Nelsen, California Citrus Mutual (CCM) president, in order to keep all citrus safe from HLB.

Citrus PSA on HLB Fight
CA Citrus Pest and Disease Prevention Program’s Citrus PSA on HLB Fight, “Deadly Plant Disease Threatens California Citrus”

Nelsen said the citrus PSA announcement “shows a family in the backyard barbequing and doing what families do on a weekend.”  They walk over to their row of three citrus trees in the backyard when an orange falls off the tree and disappears, followed by the disappearance of all three trees. Nelsen said the PSA zeros in on the family members’ confusion at the disappearance of the oranges and the trees, all associated with the HLB infection.

CCPDPP’s new PSA is a way for homeowners to understand the importance of keeping citrus safe from HLB, said Nelsen, ”because as much as they’re emotionally tied to their trees, so are the growers in our industry. We don’t want to see anyone’s tree get eliminated because of HLB.”

_________________________________

Prevent HLB; Check Your Citrus Trees for Asian Citrus Psyllid

In a new four-minute video, University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) scientists encourage California farmers and home citrus growers to check new growth on their citrus trees for Asian citrus psyllid infestation. As ACPs spread Huanglongbing (HLB) disease, a serious, incurable threat to both the citrus industry and backyard citrus trees, scientists aim to minimize the ACP population until researchers find a cure.

UC ANR video, "Check your Citrus Trees for Asian Citrus psyllid" and HLB
UC ANR video, “Check your Citrus Trees for Asian Citrus psyllid

A flush of new leaf growth on citrus trees announces spring in California. The emergence of feathery light green leaves is particularly attractive to Asian citrus psyllids (ACP), signaling a critical time to determine if the trees are infested with ACPs.

“We encourage home citrus growers and farmers to go out with a magnifying glass or hand lens and look closely at the new growth,” said Beth Grafton-Cardwell, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) citrus entomologist. “Look for the various stages of the psyllid – small yellow eggs, sesame-seed sized yellow ACP young with curly white tubules, or aphid-like adults that perch with their hind quarters angled up.Save Our Citrus

Pictures of the ACP and its life stages are on the UC ANR website. Call the California Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Exotic Pest Hotline at (800) 491-1899 with any findings.

The UC ANR ACP website provides help in finding the pest and taking action.

(Source: UC ANR)

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Homeowners Urged To Make Sure Gardeners Who Apply Pesticides Have License

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) is urging all homeowners to check that their maintenance gardener (landscaper) has a state maintenance gardening (MG) pest control business license from DPR if they are occasionally applying pesticides on their lawns. Homeowners can do so on the DPR website’s License and Certificate Holder List Page.

“Homeowners may not realize that maintenance gardeners are applying chemistry to their lawns,” says DPR director Brian Leahy. “We want to try and ensure they are doing so in a responsible manner.”

The license ensures that the person applying pesticides has been properly trained to use them on lawns and garden areas. If used properly, pesticides should not cause harm to humans or pets. However, improper use may result in illnesses or environmental problems.

Pesticides used on lawns and gardens may be washed to street storm drains and into local rivers, streams and even sensitive wetlands miles away. This may impact aquatic life.

“Your lawn may only be a small piece of land, but collectively, California lawns amount to many acres,” said Leahy. “Homeowners can play a significant role to reduce the amount of pesticide pollution (runoff) from lawns that are entering our waters through storm drains.”

Under California law, anyone who applies pesticides, even if it is only incidental to other maintenance gardening tasks, must have this DPR maintenance gardening pest control business license and be registered with the local county agricultural commissioner’s office.

In California, there are about 100,800 landscapers employed in the public and private sector who are responsible for maintaining homes, parks, golf courses, schools and plantings around malls, offices, restaurants and other locations.

Learn more about how your landscapers can obtain a certificate/ license at
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How Homeowners Can Help Stop Citrus Greening

Homeowners with a citrus tree in their yard are an important part of the defense in keeping the Asian Citrus Psyllid out of the San Joaquin Valley. It’s important since the insect vectors a deadly disease on citrus.

Kevin Severns is a citrus grower and chairman of the California Citrus Mutual, based in the Tulare county town of Exeter. Severn says homeowners are an integral part of the picture.

“More homes than not and certainly more neighborhoods than not, have citrus trees in them. Certainly in the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California as well. In fact, in Southern California there is actually more acreage in backyards than there is in the rest of the citrus industry combined. So the homeowner is key to us winning this fight against the Asian Citrus Psyllid.”

Severns gives some pointers on what homeowners can do to prevent the spread of the Asian Citrus Psyllid.

“So what they can do for us is actually a couple of things. They can go out and inspect their trees for the Asian Citrus Psyllid. We have a lots of materials that are available for them to be able to identify the bug,” said Severns. “Essentially what it looks like is little tiny spikes or thorns, on the back of the leaf. If a homeowner certainly sees something like that, the best thing for them to  can do is call the County Ag Commissioner’s office and they can bring someone out who can positively identify it.” he added.

Severns said homeowners also should be looking at the symptoms of  Huanglongbing disease, also known as citrus greening, which is the disease the ACP carries.

“Stunted growth on the tree, yellowing on the tree, and fruit that is oblong and misshapen. So all this together they can help us look for [Asian Citrus Psyllid]. One other thing they can do is to not bring plant material in from other areas that are heavily infested with the Asian Citrus Psyllid, that is a huge deal for us. So all those things together, if they can help us be vigilant on this, that would just be huge in us winning this fight and keeping them out of the Central Valley.”

For more information on this disease, go to CaliforniaCitrusThreat.org

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