Florida, California citrus markets under siege from bug that carries devastating disease

A disease that has the Florida citrus market under siege—costing it about $975 million per year on average over the last decade—is now threatening California's $2.5 billion industry, Tiffany Stecker reports for Greenwire. The Asian citrus psyllid is a carrier of a devastating bacterial disease called huanglongbing (HLB), better known as citrus greening, which stunts the growth of citrus, leading to small, bitter fruit. (Stecker photo: Jessica Rodriguez uses her pooter, a device to catch insects, to survey for the Asian citrus psyllid)

The Florida industry was caught off guard by the speed of the epidemic of ACP, which was likely smuggled into the U.S. "in private shipments that did not go through proper inspections," Stecker writes. "Many growers are holding out for a resistant, genetically engineered orange, while scientists are experimenting with HLB-sniffing dogs and technology that identify the infection through metabolic changes within the plant to halt the spread."

In California, 16 counties "are wholly or partially under quarantine for the psyllid, including the top citrus-producing area, the Central Valley's Tulare County," Stecker writes. Mark Hoddle, principal investigator for the University of California, Riverside's Applied Biological Control Research laboratory, told Stecker, "Much of the industry has come to terms with the fact that the question of citrus greening begins not with an if, but with a when." 

In Los Angeles County, about half of all homeowners have a citrus tree on their property, Stecker writes. Kurt Floren, Los Angeles County agricultural commissioner, told her, "This county is effectively one continuous grove, from border to border. The presence of the disease presents an equally devastating potential as it would should it be found in a commercial grove." (Read more

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