Saving our Citrus Heritage

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Citrus is a staple crop of San Bernardino County, with a rich history that traces as far back as the 1800s. Unfortunately, this citrus heritage is under serious threat by an infectious disease called Huanglongbing (HLB). With no known cure, HLB devastates trees, leaving bitter and misshapen fruit, ultimately killing the tree. While HLB does not harm humans, it devastates trees, and can lie dormant for several years, creating a greater risk to healthy citrus groves. The disease is carried by an Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP), which is an insect no larger than a grain of rice, but has the potential to carry this infectious disease from citrus grove to citrus grove.

Scientists suspect the psyllids arrived through the Port of Miami more than a decade ago. In 2013, ACP destroyed thousands of citrus groves in Florida causing over $4.5 billion in citrus production losses and over 8,000 in jobs losses throughout the state. Since then, ACP is speculated to have traveled through several coastal states carrying the disease and wiping out many more groves before reaching California. Last month, HLB was found in a residential grove in Orange County.

After witnessing the detrimental impacts ACP can have on citrus industry, local growers did not waste time in brainstorming ideas to help fight this threat. They formed an ACP Taskforce, comprised of industry professionals, the County’s Agriculture Department, and local experts. This taskforce meets frequently to discuss how they can prevent ACP from affecting citrus groves in San Bernardino County.

My office has actively worked with local growers and the County’s Agricultural Commissioner to support the County’s citrus industry. With the help of local citrus growers, the County’s Department of Agriculture has made substantial progress in the abatement of the neglected/abandoned citrus groves on residential properties. Neglected/ abandoned citrus groves can pose a great danger to healthy groves because they have a higher risk of attracting HLB. The department’s website now features a link were residents and growers can report neglected/abandoned groves.

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Currently, our efforts are focused on spreading the state’s “Save our Citrus” campaign. The California Department of Food and Agriculture administers the Citrus Pest and Disease Prevention Program to help combat serious pests and diseases that threatens the state’s citrus trees. The program, funded by California citrus growers, provides important information on tree care, inspection, and disease prevention. The program has created flyers, brochures, and yard signs for public outreach. My office, as well as the Agricultural Commissioner’s office, has these materials available for public consumption.

I encourage you to learn more about the “Save our Citrus” campaign as well as to take the pledge to save our county’s citrus. The best way to protect citrus trees from HLB is to stop the ACP. To learn more about this citrus threat visit www.californiacitrusthreat.com or to report abandoned/neglected trees visit www.sbcounty.gov/awm.

James Ramos San Bernardino County, Third District

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