Nearly 100 Miles Sprayed to Stamp Out Citrus Killer

While fruit from infected trees are safe to eat, the root of the problem goes deeper than consumption

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    NEWSLETTERS

    An invasive and deadly disease that attacks citrus trees was found in Hacienda Heights March 30, and now no fruits are allowed in or out of a 93-square-mile quarantine area for the next two years. This week, state agriculture workers are going door to door to spray trees in the Los Angeles suburb. Trees infected by Huanglongbing, or yellow dragon disease, will have to be removed. The disease is carried by the Asian citrus psyllid, a small flying insect. NBC4’s John Cadiz Klemack reports from Hacienda Heights. (Published Tuesday, Apr 10, 2012)

    Spraying is underway in the San Gabriel Valley to stop the spread of a disease that, if left unchecked, threatens to wipe out California’s $2 billion citrus industry.

    The State Department of Food and Agriculture has 12 crews out in Hacienda Heights spraying citrus trees from top to bottom to kill the Asian Citrus Psyllid, a little bug that can carry a very big disease.
     
    The disease has not reached San Diego County, however, in October 2009, the California Department of Food & Agriculture quarantined 977 square miles in the Valley Center area of North Eastern San Diego. It was believed to have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in 2008.
     
    If the disease were to hit San Diego trees, it could severely harm the local economy. As of 2010, the citrus crops in San Diego were worth $78.4 million, according to our media partner, the North County Times.
     
    Huanglongbing is spread through a process similar to pollination. While feeding, the tiny Psyllids grab the disease before moving on to pierce another tree.
     
    A 93-square mile area is already under quarantine, meaning no fruits are allowed in or out for the next two years.
     
    Quarantine Map: LA and Orange Counties (pdf)
     
    While fruit from infected trees are safe to eat for humans and pets, the root of the problem goes deeper than consumption -- an infected tree will likely die within two years of contracting the disease.
     
    "Huanglongbing is a fatal disease of citrus trees, there is no cure," said Steve Lyle of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. "If we detect it, the tree must be removed to rid the disease."

    The first sign of the problem is the yellowing of the leaves. Fruits that looks like it’s ripening before reverting to green, or misshapen fruit or buds are also signs that the tree may have contracted the disease.

    Those unsavory symptoms are signs that the tree isn’t getting the nutrients it needs, experts said.

    They're hoping to nip this problem in the bud, before California's juicy citrus industry falls prey to a tiny bug that cost Florida billions.

    Officials are urging the community to help track the disease using a mobile app, dubbed SAVE OUR CITRUS, the data from which is collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    The free application, available at iTunes, allows the user to send a photo of misshapen or discolored fruit to citrus experts, who will respond with a diagnosis.