FDA Releases Possible Factors for 2018 E. Coli Outbreaks

Leafy Greens Industry and Public Were Severely Impacted

By Hank Giclas, Western Growers Sr. Vice President, Strategic Planning, Science & Technology

Recently, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration released an environmental assessment that provides an overview of factors that potentially contributed to the contamination of romaine lettuce with E. coli that was implicated in a 2018 multi-state foodborne illness outbreak. The assessment can be found here and includes the background on the outbreak; the environmental team approach; and factors potentially contributing to the introduction and spread of E. coli; along with recommendations for the prevention E. coli in leafy greens.

FDA recommends that growers and processors of leafy greens:

  • assure that all agricultural water (water that directly contacts the harvestable portion of the crop) used by growers is safe and adequate for its intended use (including agricultural water used for application of crop protection chemicals);
  • assess and mitigate risks related to land uses near or adjacent to growing fields that may contaminate agricultural water or leafy greens crops directly (e.g. nearby cattle operations or dairy farms, manure or composting facility);
  • verify that food safety procedures, policies, and practices, including supplier controls for fresh-cut processors, are developed and consistently implemented on farms (both domestic and foreign) and in fresh-cut produce manufacturing/processing food facilities to minimize the potential for contamination and/or spread of human pathogens;
  • when a foodborne pathogen is identified in the growing or processing environment, in agricultural inputs (e.g., agricultural water), in raw agricultural commodities or in fresh-cut, ready-to-eat produce, a root cause analysis should be performed to determine the likely source of the contamination, if prevention measures have failed, and whether additional measures are needed to prevent a reoccurrence; and
  • Local in-depth knowledge and actions are critical in helping resolve potential routes of contamination of leafy greens in the Yuma growing region, including Imperial County and Yuma County, moving forward. FDA urges other government and non-government entities, produce growers and trade associations in Yuma and Imperial Counties to further explore possible source(s) and route(s) of contamination associated with the outbreak pathogen and with other foodborne pathogens of public health significance. This information is critical to developing and implementing short- and long-term remediation measures to reduce the potential for another outbreak associated with leafy greens or other fresh produce commodities.

The findings in the Environmental Assessment appear to provide little new information but will be closely reviewed by Western Growers and others as part of our industry’s ongoing efforts to ensure food safety.

Immediately after the outbreak, Western Growers collaborated with the leafy greens industry to help lead a task force that would assess the source of the outbreak, as well as develop recommendations to prevent future outbreaks. While sources of contamination remain uncertain, the task force made concrete recommendations to industry for assuring water is safe and adequate, assessing and mitigating risk from adjacent land uses as well as others to address risks from equipment and climatic conditions.  These recommendations go well beyond the requirements of the FDA’s own Produce Safety Rule and have already been incorporated into the California and Arizona LGMA requirements. State auditors are now charged with verifying adherence to these new controls through announced and un-announced audits that occur throughout the seasons. The industry is furthering its efforts to learn more including through research guided by respected entities such as the Center for Produce Safety and working directly with California and Arizona academic teams. There is a strong and broad commitment to continually work to improve our food safety system.

Other related information posted by FDA includes:

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ACP Found Near Juice Plant

More Asian Citrus Psyllids Found in Tulare County, 10 ACPs near Juice Plant

 

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor, and Laurie Greene, Editor

 

Announced Today, more Asian Citrus Psyllids (ACP) were found recently in several Tulare County traps, two of which were adjacent to an orange juice plant near Tipton.

“There were a few [ACPs] on sticky traps on a residential tree, one in a commercial grove, and even more concerning, four on one and six on a second sticky card near the juice plant,” said Marilyn Kinoshita, Tulare County ag commissioner.” ACP is known to vector Huanglongbing (HLB) disease, a disease that is fatal for citrus trees.

Marilyn Kinoshita, Tulare County ag commissioner
Marilyn Kinoshita, Tulare County ag commissioner

“The juice plant ACP finds could have come from southern California trees, most likely from Ventura, Orange, Riverside, and Imperial Counties, that were stripped of crop and did not go through a shed,” said Kinoshita, referring to a necessary cleaning protocol. “It’s very frustrating because there’s a certain protocol in shipping citrus but not everybody follows it.”

“When citrus is field-run [from the field to the packing shed],” continued Kinoshita, “the fruit should be separated from stems and leaves—which may harbor ACPs—then cleaned and manipulated over rollers before being packed for shipping or transported in bulk by truck to the juice plant.”

“So it’s a real concern finding ACPs at the Tipton juice plant,” Kinoshita explained, “because it is isolated from our citrus belt and they are the first ACPs found near a plant. It means that the psyllids possibly hitchhiked to the plant in Tipton, which is right along Highway 99. Even if the fruit had been cleaned, the psyllids, which are strong fliers, could have ended up in the cab of the truck and transported to Tulare County,” noted Kinoshita.

Kinoshita noted protection spray protocols are now in motion. “We’ve got two active programs, residential treatments in unison with our orchard treatments, and those are all managed by a treatment coordinator who works with our treatment groups. These are smaller groups of growers, so their treatments are hopefully done within a 2-week period to cover an area and try to control this pest.”

“The Number One citrus county in California doesn’t need ACP,” said Kinoshita, “and heaven forbid they come in while infected with HLB disease! Already about 20 trees have tested positive for the fatal HLB—all in southern California, starting with Hacienda Heights in April 2012, with more found in and around San Gabriel residential areas, last year in July and this year in February.”

Kinoshita advocated for everyone to stay vigilant and keep educating—not only the citizens of the state, but these transporters too. “They need to be more careful,” said Kinoshita. “All equipment that moves though the citrus groves must be cleaned before moving into another grove. It’s going to take everyone’s cooperation.”

“There is so much capability for [ACP] hitchhiking into this County where we are ground zero for potential problems—for the sheer number of packing sheds, orange groves and juice plants. So it’s a pretty difficult situation, but fortunately we’ve got a system that is in place; we just have to keep at it and not let our guard down,” she said.

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Henry Gonzales, Ventura County Ag Commissioner

Ventura County Ag Commissioner Henry Gonzales Started as Fieldworker

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor

California Ag Today interviewed Henry Gonzales, Ventura County Ag Commissioner, who has served in that post for 7 years. His unique story begins with his birth in Fresno and his work in the California fields at an early age.

Gonzales: My parents were migrant farmworkers, and back in the day, there was no day care for us, so they took us to the fields with them. I like to think I my career started in agriculture when I was old enough to pick up a plum and put it in their basket. We worked a lot in the Fresno area, but also in the San Jose area and Imperial County, following the crops as most migrant farmers do.

CalAgToday: You started working as a child, and what happened next? Did you and your family continue as a farmworkers?

Gonzales: We continued farm working for many years. We used to live in farm labor camps, whenever they were available. Sometimes we stayed with relatives or anywhere we could find. There were times when the only places we could find were the trees in the orchard, so sometimes we stayed there.

CalAgToday: So, when you were 13, you went off on your own?

Gonzales: Yes, when I was 13, I did what I thought I should do—work under my own social security card. I started working in the fields around Salinas. I was actually in the same lettuce harvesting crew with my grandfather who was 69 at the time.

CalAgToday: Well, Henry, walk me through it. How many years did you work with your grandfather?

Gonzales: I worked every summer and weekends since I was 13 through high school in the fields around Salinas.

This painting was done by Henry Gonzales's mother depicting his early work in the fields
This painting was done by Henry Gonzales’s mother depicting his early work in the fields.

 

 

CalAgToday: Tell me about high school.

Gonzales: I felt very strongly about completing high school because I know my parents did not. But you may find it interesting that when I was working in the fields around Salinas, I was a card-carrying member of the United Farm Workers (UFW).

CalAgToday: So the UFW recruited you early, or were you a supporter?

Gonzales: Well, it was a closed-shop situation; if you worked in that company, you were a member. So I believe I am the only ag commissioner who was once a card-carrying member of the UFW.

CalAgToday: And why is that significant to you, Henry?

Gonzales: As you know, in agriculture, farmworkers are, almost literally, the backbone of the industry. They are the ones doing all the heavy lifting. So, having that background really provides me with a broader perspective because I can understand farming from the ground level up. Coupled with my Bachelor of Science degree in agricultural science, my field work experience has given me a well-rounded background for agriculture.

I started working for the Monterey County Ag Commissioner’s office over 30 years ago. All Ag Commissioners start at the bottom of the organization, so I began as an agricultural inspector-biologist and worked my way up to deputy, chief deputy, and then seven years ago, I became Ag Commissioner here in Ventura County.

CalAgToday: So suddenly a job became available in Ventura County?

Gonzales: That was kind of interesting. I was in Monterey County with a great job, a great boss, and I could do pretty much what I wanted. But I got a call from Ventura County inviting me to apply for their ag commissioner position. I checked with my wife, and she said ‘Sure, why not? Try it!’ I did, and as they say, the rest is history.

I applied and got the position. I was reappointed here three years ago, and I am hoping to do at least one more term after my current term is over. I think all my years working for the Monterey County Ag Commissioner’s office, my degree in Ag Science, and my master’s in public administration, coupled with my childhood years working in the field really gives me a broad background in agriculture, especially as it exists in Ventura County and in the state of California.

CalAgToday: How did you have time to get a masters degree in public administration?

Gonzales: Well, while I was working for Monterey County, I spent a lot of sleepless nights and weekends in order to earn that degree from Golden Gate University’s satellite office in Monterey.

CalAgToday: When you look back, you have come so far from your beginnings as a farmworker, and you have seen so much. How do you put all of that together?

Gonzales: My experience has provided me with the broadest perspective, so when I deal with a challenging issue, I can see it from all vantage points, and that is very helpful to me in doing my job.

 

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Thanks to California Ag!

Thanks to California Ag for Thanksgiving!

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor

 

As Americans enjoy Thanksgiving dinner, let us recognize that farmers, especially California farmers, have made our bounty possible.

pumpkin free imageCalifornia is a big turkey producing state, always ranking in the top six nationally.

pumpkin free imageIn 1948, Sophie Cubbison, who was born in San Carlos, California and who graduated from California Polytechnical University in 1912, invented the Mrs. Cubbinson’s melba toast or cornbread stuffing most of us serve. (She even paid her way through college with the money she earned feeding farmworkers. Sourcewww.mrscubbisons.com)

pumpkin free imageWhat would Thanksgiving be without wonderful California wines and Martinelli’s (another great California company) great sparkling apple and grape beverages to celebrate our good fortune?

pumpkin free imageAnd all those amazing side dishes . . . the russet and red potatoes from Kern County; the sweet potatoes from Merced County; the many wonderful squash varieties including zucchini, yellow, acorn squash . . . are all produced by farmers and farmworkers in California.

pumpkin free imageGreen beans, lettuce, tomatoes, olives, cucumbers, radishes, and carrots will grace the tables across America, thanks to California producers in ped and other areas of the state.

Don’t forget gapumpkin free imagerlic, onions and mushrooms are all produced primarily in California!

California farmers produce it all, with the exception of cranberries!

Thanks Wisconsin!

(And New Jersey, Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington, and parts of Canada)

pumpkin free imageYou can thank California egg producers for those tasty hardboiled deviled eggs on Grandma’s favorite serving dish.

pumpkin free imagePlus raisins, a great addition to dressings and other dishes, thanks to the raisin producers in Fresno, Madera and Merced Counties.

pumpkin free imageAnd of course walnuts, almonds and pistachios are big part of our savory stuffing recipes and our snacks.

pumpkin free imageApple cider and apple pie? California, among the top five states, produces a wide variety of apples.

pumpkin free imageWait! What about pumpkin pie? California farmers.

pumpkin free imageAnd the wonderful whipped cream? Thanks to the California dairy industry.

pumpkin free imageDid you know the turkey pop-up timer was invented in California? Yes, indeed. Back in the 1950s, the California Turkey Producers Advisory Board brainstormed to figure out how to prevent over-cooked turkeys, according to Leo Pearlstein, a Los Angeles pubic relations pro in the food industry, who was among the five original board members. One board member—a California turkey producer, as Pearlstein tells it—looked up at the ceiling, noticed the sprinklers and had a Eureka moment! He suddenly realized the ceiling sprinklers were triggered when heat melted a material inside the gizmo. For a complete explanation, see How Pop-Up Turkey Timers Work at home.howstuffworks.com/pop-up-timer1.htm.

From all of us here at California Ag Today,

Thanks to California Ag for serving us a delectable nutritious Thanksgiving!

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USDA Designates Imperial County as Primary Natural Disaster Area

Drought-Ridden Imperial County Named Primary Natural Disaster Area 

TODAY, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) designated Imperial County in California as a primary natural disaster area due to damages and losses caused by a recent drought.

“Our hearts go out to those California farmers and ranchers affected by recent natural disasters,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “President Obama and I are committed to ensuring that agriculture remains a bright spot in our nation’s economy by sustaining the successes of America’s farmers, ranchers, and rural communities through these difficult times. We’re also telling California producers that USDA stands with you and your communities when severe weather and natural disasters threaten to disrupt your livelihood.”

Imperial County, CA
Imperial County, CA

Farmers and ranchers in Riverside and San Diego Counties in California also qualify for natural disaster assistance because their counties are contiguous.

Farmers and ranchers in La Paz and Yuma Counties in Arizona also qualify for natural disaster assistance because their counties are contiguous.

All counties listed above were designated natural disaster areas TODAY, making all qualified farm operators in the designated areas eligible for low interest emergency (EM) loans from USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), provided eligibility requirements are met. Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the declaration to apply for loans to help cover part of their actual losses. FSA will consider each loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of losses, security available and repayment ability. FSA has a variety of programs, in addition to the EM loan program, to help eligible farmers recover from adversity.

Additional programs available to assist farmers and ranchers include the Emergency Conservation Program, The Livestock Forage Disaster Program, the Livestock Indemnity Program, the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program, and the Tree Assistance Program. Interested farmers may contact their local USDA Service Centers for further information on eligibility requirements and application procedures for these and other programs. Additional information is also available online at http://disaster.fsa.usda.gov.

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Palo Verde Valley Prepares for Fall Crops

Dr. Vonny Barlow, a UC Cooperative Extension Entomology Farm Advisor in Blythe located in Imperial County, reports the Palo Verde Valley has a lot of activity this time of year.

“Currently we’re transitioning out of the summer crops; temperatures are getting cooler; we’re no longer in the 114° to 116° F zone; and nighttime temperatures are dropping. So we are transitioning to our late fall/winter crops, which is predominantly lettuce in the Palo Verde Valley,” said Barlow.

“A lot of those growers out there are pre-irrigating their fields now to increase soil friability—to break it up so that when they come in and mulch the soil, they can create fine soil and soil particles—because lettuce seed needs good soil contact for it to imbibe water and germinate,” said Barlow.

“The Palo Verde Valley is unique in the desert in that it is a highly productive agricultural region. It’s the second largest alfalfa production in that area outside the San Joaquin Valley, and it actually has greater production than the inner-mountain areas in Northern California. We have plentiful sunshine, good soil types, easily-drained soils, and available water for irrigation, so that’s the trifecta for agriculture,” said Barlow.

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Imperial County Breaks Ag Production Record in 2013

The big Imperial County Region had a record year of Ag production value in 2013 of more than 2 billion dollars.

“It’s the first time that we ever hit the 2 billion dollar mark. We hit 2.158 billion dollars this year in production value,” said Linsey Dale, Executive Director of the Imperial County Farm Bureau.  Dale is based in El Centro—the county seat of Imperial County.

“We had a bump in price of cattle last year, we had a bump in the price of some of our forage crops last year, and our onion market went up a bit, broccoli market went up a bit, so there were several different crops that had an increase in price in 2013 over 2012,” said Dale.

Dale says that agriculture drives the economy in Imperial County. “We are the single biggest private employer in Imperial County, agriculture is. It has been since day one and will continue to be. If we lose agriculture here in Imperial county we lost Imperial Valley. We have thousands and thousands of jobs in farm services providers and right in production agriculture, its a tremendous impact,” said Dale.

Dale noted that Imperial County, through the Imperial Irrigation District, has some of the strongest water rights in the state. “We do have a very strong water rights. Water is a key issue for us here, we have very little rainfall, less than 2 inches per year. All of our water comes from the Colorado river, so with drought conditions here in California currently, areas are looking at us to produce that the fruits and vegetables need for the nation, especially for the winter months,” Dale said.

“We produce crops 365 days a year, some of our fields actually have 3 crop rotations. We get cuttings on alfalfa year-round, and again we have that strong water right that is necessary to be able to grow these crops,” said Dale.

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Everyone Plays a Part in Protecting California Citrus

Protecting California Citrus

By Victoria Hornbaker; Ag Alert 

Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its final crop estimate for the Florida orange crop, reflecting a reduction of 30 million cartons in total production from the previous season. There is no denying the devastating impact that Huanglongbing has had on the Florida citrus industry since the disease was first discovered in 2005. A drive through Florida citrus country will offer vastly different scenery than that of California’s premier citrus-producing regions.

In some respects, the California citrus industry has been fortunate to learn from the situation in Florida and has taken a very proactive approach to protect itself from a similar fate. In 2009, the industry supported a mandatory self-assessment to fund a comprehensive treatment and trapping program to manage the insect carrier of HLB, the Asian citrus psyllid, and prevent HLB from taking hold.

The Asian citrus psyllid is now endemic throughout a majority of Southern California, particularly in dense, urban areas where citrus trees can be found in six out of every 10 backyards. In March 2012, HLB was discovered for the first time in a backyard citrus tree in Los Angeles County. Although there have not been any additional confirmed cases of HLB since then, as an industry we must remain vigilant statewide in order to protect our $2 billion citrus crop.

Currently, there are eight counties in California that are entirely quarantined for the Asian citrus psyllid: Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura. Additionally, portions of Fresno, Kern, San Luis Obispo and Tulare counties are also under quarantine for the Asian citrus psyllid.

The total quarantined area statewide is now 46,530 square miles. Maps are available online at www.cdfa.ca.gov/plant/go/acp-quarantine.

With a large portion of the state’s commercial citrus production now within quarantine zones, it is increasingly important that growers and packers are up to date on current regulations and protocols, to best manage psyllid populations and prevent the pest from spreading any further.

There are two approved options under the Bulk Fruit Movement Performance Standard available for commercial citrus growers and packers to comply with the quarantined regulations: Remove all leaves and stems/plant debris using a field cleaning machine, or apply a University of California integrated pest management-recommended material within 14 days prior to harvest.

There are no restrictions on moving fruit with leaves and stems if shipping to a packinghouse or processing facility located within the same quarantine boundary.

Asian citrus psyllids can easily “hitchhike” on citrus plant debris, so it’s important that we all do our part to minimize the movement of plant material between work sites. It is strongly recommended that growers and packers work with farm labor contractors, picking crews, pesticide applicators and hedging/topping services to ensure that all equipment, picking bags, field bins, clothing and gloves are free of stems and leaves before leaving the field.

We all have a commonality in agriculture and can understand the pressures posed by invasive insects and diseases. This is a fight that no commodity can win without the support of homeowners and consumers, which is why everyone with a backyard citrus tree should:

  • Not move citrus—Do not move citrus plants, plant material or fruit into or out of a quarantine area or across state or international borders.
  • Inspect your trees—Inspect your citrus trees for signs of the psyllid or HLB whenever watering, spraying, pruning or otherwise tending to trees.
  • Plant responsibly—Plant trees from reputable, licensed California nurseries.
  • Talk to your local nursery—Ask about products that are available to help stop the Asian citrus psyllid.
  • 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.
  • Cooperate—Cooperate with agricultural officials who are trapping and treating for the Asian citrus psyllid.

By working together, we can help stop the Asian citrus psyllid and protect California citrus from Huanglongbing.

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