Nearly 100 Miles Sprayed to Stamp Out Citrus Killer
While fruit from infected trees are safe to eat, the root of the problem goes deeper than consumption
By John Cadiz Klemack
An invasive and deadly disease that attacks citrus trees was found in Hacienda Heights March 30, and now no fruits are allowed in or out of a 93-square-mile quarantine area for the next two years. This week, state agriculture workers are going door to door to spray trees in the Los Angeles suburb. Trees infected by Huanglongbing, or yellow dragon disease, will have to be removed. The disease is carried by the Asian citrus psyllid, a small flying insect. NBC4’s John Cadiz Klemack reports from Hacienda Heights.
Spraying is underway in the San Gabriel Valley to stop the spread of a disease that, if left unchecked, threatens to wipe out California’s $2 billion citrus industry.
The State Department of Food and Agriculture has 12 crews out in Hacienda Heights spraying citrus trees from top to bottom to kill the Asian Citrus Psyllid, a little bug that can carry a very big disease.
“I have an orange tree, grapefruit,” said Paul Limon, who grows citrus in his yard like a majority of SoCal homeowners.
Like anyone who might lose their family tree, Limon said he hopes what’s being done in his neighborhood saves it.
“Definitely good to get rid of them now before it becomes a huge problem,” he said.
Two types of quick-drying chemicals are being sprayed on the crops. Officials said sprayed fruit is still edible as long as it’s washed first.
The ground around the trees was treated with merit, also known as imidacloprid, to kill future infestations; the tree leaves and limbs were treated with tempo to kill potentially living Asian Citrus Psyllids.
The chemicals are not harmful to people or pets, although experts suggest keeping animals away from the treated area until it dries – which could take up to four hours.
Huanglongbing is spread through a process similar to pollination. While feeding, the tiny Psyllids grab the disease before moving on to pierce another tree.
A 93-square mile area is already under quarantine, meaning no fruits are allowed in or out for the next two years.
While fruit from infected trees are safe to eat for humans and pets, the root of the problem goes deeper than consumption — an infected tree will likely die within two years of contracting the disease.
“Huanglongbing is a fatal disease of citrus trees, there is no cure,” said Steve Lyle of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. “If we detect it, the tree must be removed to rid the disease.”
Inspectors are going door to door this week, spraying a half-mile radius around the single infected tree.
“Our objective is to manage the risk until researchers can find a cure to the disease,” Lyle said.
The first sign of the problem is the yellowing of the leaves. Fruits that looks like it’s ripening before reverting to green, or misshapen fruit or buds are also signs that the tree may have contracted the disease.
Those unsavory symptoms are signs that the tree isn’t getting the nutrients it needs, experts said.
They’re hoping to nip this problem in the bud, before California’s juicy citrus industry falls prey to a tiny bug that cost Florida billions.
Officials are urging the community to help track the disease using a mobile app, dubbed SAVE OUR CITRUS, the data from which is collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The free application, available at iTunes, allows the user to send a photo of misshapen or discolored fruit to citrus experts, who will respond with a diagnosis.