California’s Department of Food and Agriculture has approved a significant assessment increase that will pour an estimated $15 million more dollars into the citrus industry’s battle against the Asian citrus psyllid.

Millions of dollars approved for California’s Asian citrus psyllid fight

The Oct. 18 approval increases the per-box assessment from one cent to nine cents to control the pest, which can carry the bacterial disease, huanglongbing, also known as citrus greening.

“Any way you slice it, it’s going to be a lot of money,” said Jim Cranney, president of the California Citrus Quality Control Council, Auburn. “It’s to the credit of the growers that they’re taking money out of their own pockets to try to defend themselves, their industry and ultimately the consumers.”

An industry referendum early last year approved the per carton assessment. The increase was recommended by the Citrus Pest and Disease Prevention Committee, which provides guidance to the state’s agriculture department.

“We soon found that the state was basically out of money, and the program was going to run $12 million to $16 million this year,” said Nick Hill, vice president of Greenleaf Farms Inc., Kingsburg, and chairman of the 16-member committee. “The growers were going to have to fund it, or it was not going to get done.”

The $15 million for fiscal 2011 do not include the more than $11 million in federal funds that are focused on detection and trapping.

The assessments provided by growers will be used for limited trapping, but mostly for pesticide treatments in Southern California, the only region where the psyllids have been found, Hill said.

“It’s always a lot cheaper and a lot more practical to try to prevent the problem than to try to catch up with it after it’s established,” Cranny said.

Florida is a case in point, Hill said, where the disease has forced the removal of more than 200,000 acres of citrus groves. Florida grower-shippers are spending more than $500 per acre for detection, treatment and tree removal, he said.

“That amounts to $275 million added to the Florida growers’ cultural costs,” Hill said. “Add to that another $30 million Florida growers are forwarding for research.”

The $15 million California growers will contribute may not be used for other purposes, Hill said. The committee will recommend to the state agency how and where the funds are to be spent, he said.