The California Department of Food and Agriculture recently issued a quarantine order for Ventura County after Huanlongbing, a devastating citrus disease, was discovered. To overcome the threat, government and growers of all sizes have a key role to play.
My family settled and began farming in Ventura County in 1876. By 1893, my great, great grandfather planted our first lemon grove which was later budded to navel and Valencia oranges.
Our farms have survived severe droughts, record heat waves, record winds, generational floods and historic wildfires – all made worse by climate change. However, over our 130 years of farming citrus, the recent detection in Santa Paula of Huanglongbing, also known as HLB or citrus greening, poses the greatest threat to my family’s legacy and California’s entire citrus industry.
HLB is an incurable disease that infects and kills citrus trees. It is spread by a tiny flying insect called the Asian citrus psyllid.
Earlier this month, Ventura County and the state Department of Food and Agriculture established a five-mile quarantine zone around a residential detection of HLB in Santa Paula. These zones seek to limit the spread of the disease by restricting the purchase, sale and movement of citrus fruits, plants and plant material.
HLB has already wrought havoc on the citrus industries in other states – particularly Florida, where the disease has infected 90% of citrus groves, decimating trees and eliminating tens of thousands of jobs.
The disease was first detected in California in 2012, and since then, there have been numerous confirmed cases in different parts of the state. Thanks to innovating farmers, dedicated researchers and remarkable community coordination and cooperation, we have managed to prevent HLB infections in our commercial groves for over a decade.
However, all it takes is one insect to spread this disease from backyards to nearby farms. Just as a single spark can ignite a devastating forest fire, the spread of HLB has the potential to destroy California’s citrus industry.
Successfully managing this deadly disease requires collaboration with the state, federal government, agricultural commissioners, residential citrus growers and commercial growers. Everyone needs to work together to protect the trees in our care, and the best way to safeguard our precious citrus groves is for the state to invest in pest control.
Climate change and population growth have created unprecedented challenges to growers. I work diligently toward protecting my farm from mounting threats.
E-commerce has intensified the problem, allowing pests to travel cross-country through ports, airports and interstate highways. The convenience of ordering online comes with the unintended consequence of transporting pests like fruit flies or the Asian citrus psyllid that may carry and spread harmful diseases.
We are desperately relying on every level of government working together to enhance our pest detection efforts and exclusion infrastructure. Agricultural inspection sites must be fully staffed at points-of-entry into the state.
We also need to explore innovative breeding techniques to develop disease resistant trees and seek potential cures or preventive measures against HLB. Cutting-edge research through the University of California represent the best hope to safeguard California’s citrus industry. The state should increase investments in that research.
Backyard citrus tree growers can play a major role in helping prevent HLB from spreading by increasing their knowledge and awareness of the potential threats to their trees. Everyone should know what to do if they detect a case.
Keeping trees healthy and well-maintained makes it more difficult for insects to infest a tree. Suspicious pests or symptoms like blotchy yellowing of leaves, small rancid-tasting fruits or excessive fruit drops should be reported to county agricultural commissioners or state food and ag.
By learning more and communicating possible detections, residential citrus growers can help ensure the entire industry stands the best chance of defeating this devastating disease.
State and federal officials and all types of growers can combine their resources and expertise to significantly impact our success. Together, with vigilance, innovation and collaboration, we can safeguard our citrus heritage and ensure that the golden groves of California continue to flourish for another century and beyond.