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Battle Continues Against Insect Which Poses Threat To Ventura County's Citrus Industry

Ventura County’s agricultural industry is at war with a tiny little insect, smaller than a grain of rice, which has the potential to devastate the county’s citrus crops.

The Asian Citrus Psyllid can carry a type of bacteria which can kill trees, and at this point there is no treatment or cure to save the trees. The psyllids are found in tropical and subtropical Asia, parts of the Mideast, South and Central America, and Mexico. They first came to the US in Florida, where they hit citrus crops hard. In 2010, they were first detected in Ventura County.

The psyllids have been found in numerous orchards in the county, but so far the Huanglongbing bacteria hasn’t surfaced. John Krist is Chief Executive Officer of the Ventura County Farm Bureau. Krist says the stakes are high. Lemons make up more than $250 million dollars a year of the county’s two billion dollar plus a year ag industry. He says the strategy at this point is simple: To try to control the insect as long as possible, while researchers try to come up with a way of stopping the currently incurable disease.

Leslie Leavens is part of a historic Ventura County ranching family. Her family’s Leavens Ranches has about 1200 acres of fruit trees in the county, including lemons. She says growers are working together to try to control the insect, because by eliminating them, they reduce the chance of the bacteria surfacing. But, she admits they know the bacteria is coming, with it already surfacing in Los Angeles, Riverside, and Orange counties.

This week, the State Department of Food and Agriculture met with people in Piru to talk about pesticide spraying plans to try to contain the county’s latest outbreak. While the ag industry is doing all that it can, growers say the public help is critical. It means inspecting citrus trees in your yard for the tiny insect. And, it means not bringing trees, or budwood for grafting from infected areas to our region.