By TIM HEARDEN
SACRAMENTO -- The recent discovery of six Asian citrus psyllids has prompted the state Department of Food and Agriculture to issue hold orders restricting movement of fruit and plants in parts of Tulare County.
The hold orders are in place as local, state and federal agricultural and pest-control officials work out the details of a longer-term quarantine under which growers would be able to move citrus that has been treated for the psyllid.
"Any regulatory provision is a hardship to the affected parties," CDFA spokesman Steve Lyle said. "In this case, the nurseries that move citrus plants and the packing houses will be affected. The success of any ... program depends on cooperation and understanding from those affected that compliance in the short term can bring effectiveness in the long term."
Under the restrictions, no citrus plants may leave the area, but fruit can move if it is free of stems and leaves, the California Farm Bureau Federation explains.
The restrictions come after the psyllids were found in three areas southeast of Porterville, Calif., in late June and confirmed in mid-July. Asian citrus psyllids generally don't harm fruit, but they can carry the plant disease huanglongbing, which causes citrus greening and eventually kills the trees.
At least 22 growers operate within the eradication areas, which cover an 800-meter radius around each of the finds, said Tom Tucker, Tulare County's assistant agricultural commissioner. However, most of those areas are in navel oranges, which have already been harvested, Tucker said.
Similarly, most of the nursery plants in development for growers have already moved out, said Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual. Rigorous testing done since the initial discoveries has found no additional psyllids, officials said.
"I'm sure there's an impact, but I don't know if it's as great as it sounds like," Nelsen said.
Under a quarantine, fruit can move into the affected areas. But fruit that is grown inside and packed elsewhere must have compliance agreements with the county agricultural commissioner stating the fruit is free of leaves and stems, which have been determined as primary carriers of ACP.
Protocols are also issued for certifying and clearing nursery stock, Tucker said.
"We'll work with (producers) to make it as painless as possible," Lyle said. "We will be looking at ways in a quarantine environment ... to move some product."
Asian citrus psyllids were trapped for the first time in the state's citrus belt last November, causing the state to initially restrict movement of citrus within a 20-mile radius of the finds. The restricted movement area was later reduced to five miles as an interim approach to limiting the spread of the pest.
Last spring, the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed after a week of testing that citrus greening was detected in a lemon-grapefruit hybrid tree in a residential neighborhood of Los Angeles County.
Detection of the psyllid has been state citrus growers' fear since the bug first crossed into San Diego County from Mexico in 2008, potentially threatening California's fresh citrus market. Despite 25 years of worldwide research, there still are no biological or genetic controls for the disease that keeps fruit from ripening.
The psyllids' discovery marks what has become a rough summer for pests throughout California. Tomato growers, for instance, have suffered a crop loss because of curly top virus, which stunts growth and is carried from plant to plant by the beet leafhopper.
Pest control officials have been dealing with several other exotic pest finds. According to the state Farm Bureau:
* The detection of three peach fruit flies in San Bernardino County in late June and early July triggered an eradication project using an attractant to lure and kill the flies. Officials have also found Oriental fruit flies in Orange County and Guava fruit flies in Orange County and near San Jose.
* An infestation of the light brown apple moth was confirmed in the Oceanside area, resulting in an 18-square-mile regulated area. Treatment has begun, and mating disruption with the use of pheromones is planned.
* Between March 29 and July 2, 40 European grapevine moths were trapped in Napa County, prompting treatments, fruit removal and mating disruption.
* In early July, two male European gypsy moths were trapped in Magalia, Calif. Additional traps have not trapped any more moths.
California Department of Food and Agriculture: http://www.cdfa.ca.gov
Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner/Sealer: http://agcomm.co.tulare.ca.us/default/
California Farm Bureau Federation: http://www.cfbf.com