The Arizona Department of Agriculture is moving quickly to control a small infestation of Asian citrus psyllids and to protect the state’s citrus industry after a third psyllid was found dangerously close to commercial groves.
A single psyllid was trapped Nov. 2 in a Yuma neighborhood a mile from a citrus grove. The discovery comes two weeks after two psyllids were discovered in traps in the border community of San Luis, about ten miles south of Yuma.
The psyllids can carry huanglongbing, the bacterial disease that is fatal to citrus trees, but none of the psyllids found so far tested positive for the disease, also known as HLB, said John Caravetta, assistant director of the department’s plant division.
“We’re very confident in the integrity of our fruit,” he said.
The psyllid finds come as growers are actively harvesting lemons in Yuma County, Arizona’s citrus growing hub.
The department has established a quarantine that covers a 20-mile radius around the newest find. The quarantine includes most of Yuma County’s commercial citrus production, Caravetta said.
Department officials have met with all citrus grower-shippers in the area and have the cooperation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, he said.
“We have all three parties pulling together to make sure we can stand behind our fruit,” Caravetta said.
In addition, the state agency is working with local officials who will help get the word to the area’s urban residents about how they can help fight to keep the bug under control.
State officials have begun treating neighborhood citrus trees near the finds with an insecticide drench around the trunks and spraying the foliage. Those are the steps California has used to control psyllid infestation along the border with Mexico, Caravetta said.
Yuma-area packinghouses are following federal guidelines for cleaning and washing the fruit and removing stems and leaves, he said. But shipping is continuing on schedule.
“The guidelines do not change the process a great deal, except for the additional diligence to make certain there are no latent stems,” Caravetta said.
With all of the packers and shippers of the fruit under federal compliance agreements, the packed lemons are permitted to leave the quarantine area.
By taking the precautionary steps, the psyllid finds have caused only a hiccup in the state’s citrus exports.
The USDA met with South Korean officials who approved the steps Arizona is taking. Similar negotiations are under way with officials in Australia.
“I’m optimistic that we will have continuing opportunities to capitalize on the Australian market,” Caravetta said.
On a broader scale, Arizona is working with the international HLB coalition that includes Mexico, Belize and the U.S. among others. Arizona officials plan to attend the coalition’s meeting in McAllen, Texas, Nov. 18, Caravetta said.
The fast action by Arizona is largely a dollars-and-cents issue.
“Finding HLB would be devastating blow to Arizona agriculture,” Caravetta said. “Citrus is a $63 million annual crop.”