The president of the Citrus Research Board, stating he represents all growers for a $2 billion statewide industry, came to Redlands Tuesday to warn residents about the minute Asian Citrus Psyllid insect that can spread the tree-killing disease Huanglongbing.
The disease, which has already killed millions of trees in Florida and Brazil, was detected for the first time in California about 45 miles west of Loma Linda in Hacienda Heights in March, according to the state Department of Food and Agriculture.
Huanglongbing is "the most devastating disease to citrus in the world," Food and Agriculture officials warned in January. There is no cure for the disease, according to scientists.
Growers who oversee an estimated four to five thousand acres in the Mentone, Redlands and Loma Linda area already know the score when it comes to psyllids, the disease they can carry, and the threat they pose, Citrus Research Board president Ted Batkin said.
Now Batkin, a former grower based in Visalia in Tulare County, is on a campaign to raise awareness among residents who have citrus trees in their yards. He estimates more than 60 percent of residential properties in the Redlands-Loma Linda area have citrus trees.
"The California citrus industry is about a $2 billion annual industry and the Citrus Research Board represents every one of those growers," Batkin said. "They all participate in our program and contribute funds to our program. We're strictly a grower-funded organization.
"We started an outreach program to reach the public about four to five years ago when we first knew that the psyllid would be in California," Batkin said.
The Asian Citrus Psyllid was first noticed in Southern California in 2008, according to the Department of Food and Agriculture.
"Now it's very important for us to be able to reach the public that have trees in their yards and make them aware of this program because their trees are at risk just like the commercial trees," Batkin said.
Batkin requested a meeting Tuesday afternoon with Redlands-Loma Linda Patch at the city-owned grove in Prospect Park. He came accompanied by a paid public relations consultant from San Diego, and they were joined by local grower Chuck Hills and entomologist Chris Boisseranc, both of Mentone-based Larry Jacinto Farming Inc.
Citrus scientists fear the detection of Huanglongbing in Hacienda Heights is not isolated, and it is just a matter of time until other cases are located and confirmed, Batkin said.
"We believe there are other trees that have been infected," Batkin said. "We just haven't found them yet. We have not found all the trees. We have identified some suspect trees that have the appearance, look like they have the disease, but we have not been able to find the particular leaf in that tree that the bacteria's in. So we continue to test regularly until we pick up the actual bacteria."
Since Jan. 1, 2012, the Department of Food and Agriculture has held public meetings in the Redlands-Loma Linda area, in the , and in other Southern California communities.
It was not clear Tuesday whether future public meetings are planned in Redlands or Loma Linda.
"This is the time of year when trees begin their fall flush and from now until December is the highest-risk time of the year when the psyllid would show up and possibly be bringing the bacteria with it," Batkin said.
"Residents with trees in their yards should look at the tips of the new leaves when the leaves are coming in," Batkin said. "If they see a little white thread-like substance, that indicates they have a psyllid population in that tree.
"They can go to their local home and garden center and get a treatment, that they can put on their trees," Batkin said. "We are not going out and treating home owners trees everywhere. Only in certain areas of concern."
Batkin said the Citrus Research Board could not recommend specific pesticides by name. Staff at local home and garden centers will know what to recommend, Batkin said.
In January 2012, the Department of Food and Agriculture began a program to wipe out psyllids in the Pass by with synthetic insecticides, according to Dr. Bryan Eya, state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.
Psyllid detections that month in residential trees in Beaumont, Banning and Cabazon were the eastern-most detections to date in Southern California, state officials said, and their stated goal was to prevent the spread of the insect to citrus groves in the Coachella Valley.
There are no commercial citrus groves in the Pass, but Beaumont is home to , which bills itself as "the largest manufacturer of fresh-squeezed citrus juice in the Western United States."
The San Joaquin Valley produces about 80 percent of the state's citrus, Batkin said. The Ventura coastal area represents about 11 percent, and the Inland Empire together with the Coachella Valley represent about 9 percent of the total crop in California, Batkin said.
"We hope people will look, and if they find evidence of the psyllid they'll get something from their home and garden center to treat their trees. Because if they don't, and they allow that to build up, then the possibility of the bacteria coming along with one of those critters is higher. And if the bacteria gets into the tree, the tree will die."
The Asian Citrus Psyllid was first detected in the United States in 1998 - in Florida, according to the University of California. The disease Huanglongbing was first detected in the United States in 2005 - again in Florida.
"In Florida they have lost close to 40 percent of trees compared to what they had 10 years ago," Batkin said. "The crop value alone of Florida and California is about the same."
"In Florida, the retail value of the juice is about $10 billion, after it's been processed and packaged and sent out," Batkin said. "But what the grower gets is almost the same. We're $2 billion, they're just a little over, about $2.3 billion. We're very similar and we work together with the Florida industry on this problem. We're not competitive. We work together with them.
"Florida had an acreage of over 850,000 acres 10 or 12 years ago," Batkin said. "Florida is now working on about 520,000 acres, and that's declining at a rate of 10 to 15 percent per year.
"So we don't want to have happen in California, what's happened in Florida," Batkin said. "They didn't go out and work in the urban population to get the situation controlled where it started in the urban area. In California we want to get ahead of it, and we've been working in the urban area for years to deal with the pest, and now we have to deal with the disease."
For more information about Asian Citrus Psyllid and Huanglongbing, visit www.cdfa.ca.gov/plant/acp.
For more information about the Citrus Research Board, visit www.citrusresearch.org.