SACRAMENTO — Armed with $10 million from the state budget and buoyed by overwhelming grower support, California’s Citrus Pest and Disease Prevention Program has been given the go-ahead to continue its work.
The state Department of Food and Agriculture decided to forgo a referendum and continue the program after a series of meetings with growers, whose assessment of 9 cents per 40-pound carton funds its efforts.
Established in 2009, the program seeks to limit the spread of the Asian citrus psyllid and huanglongbing, the deadly tree disease that the pest can carry.
“We’re very happy the CDFA decided to forgo an official referendum and just continue along with the program that we’re already doing,” said Alyssa Houtby, spokeswoman for the 2,500-member California Citrus Mutual. “We already have HLB in Riverside County, so the issue is certainly expanding.
“This program we have in place is the reason we found the disease and have been able to keep the disease from spreading as quickly as it did in Florida and Texas,” Houtby said.
The decision comes as Gov. Jerry Brown signed a budget in early July that includes $10 million from the general fund to attack the psyllid and huanglongbing, which is also known as citrus greening. The budget also included $5 million to combat the glassy-winged sharpshooter, which affects a variety of crops.
The allocation follows legislation this year that will enable the citrus industry to increase its 9-cent assessment. A committee will decide this fall how much the assessment will be raised.
As it is, the assessment generates between $15 million and $18 million a year depending on crop sizes and its matched by nearly $11 million in federal funds. The bill by state Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, will allow for another $9.6 million in grower assessments to be spent by the CDFA for psyllid control.
Growers have invested more than $100 million into the Citrus Pest and Disease Prevention Program since 2009, according to Citrus Mutual. Most of that money has gone to trapping, treatments and surveys in urban areas to stop the spread of the psyllid and HLB.
While it does not harm humans, huanglongbing is fatal for citrus trees and has no cure. The disease has been detected in more than 70 citrus trees in Southern California urban areas, but the disease has not yet migrated into the Golden State’s commercial groves.
First discovered in the United States in 2005, huanglongbing has devastated the citrus industry in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina and Texas, causing an average loss of 7,513 jobs per year and costing growers nearly $3 billion in revenue, the University of Florida has estimated.
The USDA has spent more than $400 million since 2009 to address the disease. California’s citrus industry has devoted $15 million toward HLB research and education, including $8 million from the grower-funded California Citrus Research Foundation to construct a biosecurity-level 3 lab near the University of California-Riverside that should be operational this fall.
For its part, the UC has hired and trained four “scouts” to carefully roam citrus orchards looking for signs of the psyllid. The scouts examine newly emerging leaves and tap branches to bat pests onto a clipboard.
The scouting project aims to avoid a repeat of what happened in Florida, where the pest was left unchecked when it first invaded citrus growing regions and swept through the state, UC entomology specialist Beth Grafton-Cardwell said.
“Early-detection technologist have been a research priority for California for quite a while,” Citrus Mutual’s Houtby said.
With just six months of data, the monitoring program has already yielded important information about the psyllid, UC officials said. For instance, the scouts are finding more psyllids on the borders than in the centers of orchards, meaning growers may only have to spray the borders of a grove at certain times of the year or when populations are low.
The effort is funded by a $1.45 million multi-agency grant coordinated by the USDA, university officials said.