HACIENDA HEIGHTS, Calif. (AP) - The ubiquitous backyard citrus
tree, symbolic of California's agricultural abundance, is front and
center in the battle now under way to save the state's nearly $2
billion citrus industry.
State bug detectives fanned across this suburban Los Angeles
neighborhood Monday, vacuuming backyard trees with bug catchers,
setting traps and taking tissue samples from citrus in a frantic
effort to stop the spread of a deadly disease detected there last
"You can treat commercial groves with pesticides, but you can't
do that in downtown LA," said Larry Hawkins of the U.S. Department
of Agriculture, underscoring the difficulty in treating an
agriculture disease in an urban landscape.
The confirmed detection of the bacterial disease huanglongbing -
more commonly called citrus greening - in a backyard lemon hybrid
was the moment industry officials had feared since 2008. That's
when the only bug that transmits it was first discovered in the
state that produces 80 percent of the nation's fresh orange supply.
Since then state officials have been testing other trees within
a half-mile radius to determine if the disease has spread beyond
the single tree.
"It's a huge job," said Kurt Floren, the Los Angeles County
Agricultural Commissioner. "They are literally walking every
street and visually searching for any citrus trees or other host
Huanglongbing has cost the Florida citrus industry 6,600 jobs
and billions in lost revenue since it appeared there in 2005, eight
years after that state's first detection of the Asian citrus
psyllid that transmits it.
When the bug crossed into California from Mexico, officials
began monitoring commercial groves and backyard gardens across
Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley in an effort to
catch and isolate the disease the moment it appeared.
The trapping program paid off when the USDA confirmed on Friday
what state agriculture officials had feared: Both a psyllid and the
8-foot, 8-year-old grafted lemon-pummelo tree where it was found
March 22 in the Hacienda Heights suburb of Los Angeles County were
infected with huanglongbing.
Researchers are trying to determine where the tree came from,
whether it already was infected, whether an infected graft was
placed on it, or if the bug transmitted the disease to it. An
infected psyllid spreads the disease by feeding on leaf shoots, and
a healthy bug can become a carrier by feeding on a diseased tree.
One of the biggest problems agriculture officials face is
homeowners who smuggle in plant material from other countries, not
realizing the potential threat to California's $38 billion