The War on Huanglongbing

Asian citrus psyllids may have been brought into the state

It’s called the Asian Citrus Psyllid Project (ACP).

After the initial detection of a citrus-crop threatening pest in a Lemon Grove tree last September, dozens of state, county and federal employees have surveyed more than 40,000 sites in San Diego, Orange, Riverside and Imperial Counties.

So far, tests collected have been negative. But that may not be so Fresno.

State agriculture officials have ordered further tests on bugs found earlier this month that could be devastating to the state's citrus industry. Just this week they identified the bugs as Asian citrus psyllids.

A plant-sniffing dog working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture found the bugs in an illegal FedEx shipment of curry leaves from India. The dog was working for the Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner's Office when it hit on the package during routine inspections.

Initial tests on whether the aphid-sized bugs carried the citrus-killing huanglongbing disease were inconclusive.

The disease has killed tens of thousands of acres of trees in Florida and Brazil. The threat to the state’s $1.1 billion citrus industry is so serious that after the bug was detected in Lemon Grove in September 2008, portions of San Diego and Imperial Counties were labeled as ACP quarantine areas.

Citrus greening, or huanglongbing, is a bacterial disease that attacks the vascular system of plants.

Once infected, there is no cure for a tree with citrus greening disease.  In areas of the world where citrus greening is endemic, citrus trees decline and die within a few years.

There are three forms: Asian, African and Brazilian. The strain found in South Florida appears to be the Asian form.

What happens if the pest takes hold of California's crop? The California Department of Food and Agriculture believes the cost could start at $224 million annually.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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