RIVERSIDE – A pest control district will be established in the Hemet area to defend against the invasive Asian citrus psyllid, under action taken Tuesday, Sept. 26, by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors.
Citrus Pest Control District No. 3 will enable commercial growers to develop strategies and procure pest control services to protect their oranges, lemons, grapefruit and tangerines without depending on outside sources.
The supervisors’ authorization included the appointment of a five-member board of directors to manage the district, which will be funded through fees collected from growers. The fee schedule will have to be approved during an election.
“We have well over 70 percent of growers in the area signed up,” Hemet resident and pest control contractor Allen Washburn told the board. “We feel this is necessary. It has worked in the Coachella Valley Pest Control District. It can work down in Hemet. We want to keep Hemet as clean as possible.”
The district will be bounded by Cottonwood Avenue to the north, Old Southwest Brand Road to the south, State Street to the west and state Route 74 to the east, according to the Riverside County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office.
“I think we’re going to see some progress on this issue,” Supervisor Chuck Washington said in response to the district’s formation.
In July, citrus greening disease, formally known as huanglongbing, was confirmed in a grapefruit tree located in the area of Chicago and Marlborough avenues in east Riverside. Another tree on the same block was identified as infected last month.
Asian citrus psyllids had infested both trees, which had to be uprooted and destroyed.
The board declared a local state of emergency, Aug. 29, because of the potential spread of greening disease countywide. Staff from the University of California Riverside’s Center for Invasive Species Research has taken the lead in the effort to suppress it.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture placed the area where greening disease is active under quarantine. Under the state order, only citrus products that have been “commercially cleaned and packed” can be shipped out of the quarantine zone, which is 94 square miles, encompassing parts of Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
A map depicting the quarantine area, the center of which is the interchange of Interstates 60, 91 and 215, is available at www.cdfa.ca.gov/plant/pe/InteriorExclusion/hlb_quarantine.html.
State officials said no citrus nursery stock can be moved outside of the area under quarantine, and no residentially grown citrus fruit can be moved. However, growers may continue to consume and share with people within the quarantined locations.
The CDFA said a treatment program has been implemented that seeks to eliminate Asian citrus psyllid infestations within 800 meters of where the disease took root.
Psyllids are finger-tip size, moth-like insects that made their U.S. debut in Florida nearly 20 years ago.
The county’s roughly 20,000 acres of commercial citrus crops yield about $187 million a year, and citrus greening disease poses a direct threat, according to agricultural officials.
Psyllids originate in tropical and subtropical regions. They first appeared in California in 2008 and have been trapped in citrus-growing areas throughout the Inland Empire.
Psyllids host virulent bacteria that can devastate plants’ vascular systems. The greening disease rampaged throughout Florida in 2005 and has inflicted an estimated $3 billion in damage to crops in the Sunshine State, according to a study published by the University of Florida.
The U.S. Department of Agricultural said that Florida’s citrus crops are likely to produce 70 percent less this year compared to 20 years ago as a direct result of greening disease.
The first signs of citrus greening disease are yellowing leaves on trees and fruit that remain green because they never ripen.
Anyone with questions or concerns about huanglongbing and the threat posed by psyllids is encouraged to contact either the agricultural commissioner’s office at (951) 955-3045 or the state’s pest hotline at (800) 491-1899.