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Pest found in Glendale poses risk to citrus crop

October 21, 2011|By Jason Wells, jason.wells@latimes.com
  • Asian Citrus Psyllid. (Photo courtesy of USDA.gov via Flickr)
Asian Citrus Psyllid. (Photo courtesy of USDA.gov via…

An aphid-like citrus pest with a history in Glendale prompted another warning issued this week calling on residents to report infestations to state agricultural officials.

The Asian citrus psyllid is not harmful to humans, but can be devastating to citrus trees if it is carrying a fruit-destroying disease that has no cure. The so-called greening disease, which so far has been kept from spreading north of the Mexico border, destroys the taste of fruit and kills the tree within five years, said Beth Grafton-Cardwell, UC Riverside research entomologist based at a facility in the Central Valley.

The citrus psyllid, which can be difficult to spot, acts as a carrier for the disease, and if the pest hitches a ride north on produce transports into California, the impact would be “pretty devastating,” she added.

It was first discovered in Glendale and other L.A. County cities two years ago, and officials this week said they were ramping up education efforts in affected areas as a coalition of agri-business groups and governments agencies re-energize eradication programs.

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Even as researchers and scientists work “fast and furious” on a possible vaccine, Grafton-Cardwell said, there is little defense other than tracking and trying to eradicate the carrier of the disease to minimize its potential reach.

A huge infestation in Los Angeles area has been gradually spreading in all directions, Grafton-Cardwell said, adding that while agricultural officials are working to contain the pest, “it’s bigger than what they can really handle.”

The Citrus Pest and Prevention Program on Thursday warned that the Asian citrus psyllid could re-emerge in Glendale.

Officials called on homeowners and gardeners to report infestations to the California Department of Food and Agriculture's exotic-pest hotline at (800) 491-1899, adding that the information was a vital part of containing the problem.

“We want to encourage homeowners to do their part before it’s too late,” Ted Batkin, president of the Citrus Research Board, said in a statement.

Officials recommended inspecting citrus trees monthly, or when watering or pruning, particularly during active growth or flushing. Researchers have also deployed so-called sticky strips throughout the state in an effort to snare the pests as they spread.

Two types of insecticide are typically used to treat infestations, one of which is ground-based and absorbed by the trees roots, Grafton-Cardwell said.

More information on how to identify the Asian citrus psyllid is available at www.californiacitrusthreat.org. 

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