Iowa Public Television


Bug Hunters Fan across LA to Stop Citrus Disease

posted on April 6, 2012

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


Tags: bugs California citrus farmers disease