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Citrus pest moving closer to Yuma County
While a citrus pest moving across California likely will arrive in Yuma County, it's unclear at this time what impact it and the fatal citrus tree disease it can carry might have here, said a local researcher.
The Asian citrus psyllid is a vector for a disease that is a death sentence for the citrus trees it infects. Called huanglongbing, also known as citrus greening, the disease already has led to the near destruction of the citrus industry in Florida and around the world, including Asia, India, Brazil and parts of the Middle East.
Found in Tijuana last summer, the psyllid soon was also found across the border in San Diego County. It since has been found in Mexicali and in Imperial County in Ocotillo, Calexico, Seeley and Westmorland. So far, the disease it can carry has not been found in this region.
"Absolutely... I expect it will happen," said Glenn Wright, University of Arizona citrus researcher based in Yuma, when asked if he thought the insect will make its way to Yuma.
He's less sure what impact the insect - or the disease - would have on citrus trees in the desert Southwest with its triple-digit summer temperatures.
"The question is what would the insect and disease do when faced with the heat here," he said.
Most of what is known about the psyllid and the citrus greening disease is based on what happened in Florida. The psyllid was first found in that state in 1998 and today the citrus industry there has been nearly destroyed by the disease it carries.
"We know what the insect and disease have done in Florida and how fast it moved there," Wright said. "But we're not Florida. We have different conditions. We don't know if it will move the same way in Yuma and the deserts of California."
For there to be much damage would require the presence of the disease aggressively infecting trees, he said. "Without the disease, the insect is not an issue."
However, he said, "we don't want to go through what Florida has because they ignored it," Wright said. "It does have the potential to be devastating."
It's possible, though, that Yuma's hot summers will prevent or reduce the damage, he said. Another glimmer of hope is that the millions of dollars being "thrown" at research might come up with a cure in the next few years.
In the meantime, Wright urges commercial growers and homeowners to check their citrus trees for any signs of the psyllid or the citrus greening disease. If homeowners have questions, they can call Stacy Bealmear, Yuma County Cooperative Extension urban horticulture agent, at 726-3904.
Wright also recommended that people not import citrus trees. And if they bring citrus fruit home from other areas - or ship it elsewhere - to wash the fruit and clear away any plant material.
Taking a lesson from Florida, the California Citrus Research Board is creating an operations department with experienced plant pathologist MaryLou Polek at its helm. Her first priority is to set up new diagnostic laboratories to enable mass sampling of psyllids and plant material.
The citrus board is working closely with agriculture officials in Yuma County and in Mexico to share information and train people to survey for the psyllid, said Ted Batkin, president of the board, who was in Yuma last week to raise awareness of the threat.
"The object is to get as many eyes out there as possible to look for the pest," he said. 'We also are developing massive testing capabilities so we're testing constantly for the presence of the disease. We want to find that first introduction of the disease so it can be eradicated and the psyllid can't pick it up and spread it."
For more psyllid information, including photos of the pest, go to www.CaliforniaCitrusThreat.org.
Joyce Lobeck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6853.