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Citrus pest puts big part of county in quarantine zone
UNION-TRIBUNE - Leslie Berestein | September 12, 2008

A 1,181-square-mile portion of San Diego County has been placed under quarantine for the Asian citrus psyllid, a pest that poses a serious threat to the state's citrus industry.

Meanwhile, in an unrelated discovery, county agriculture officials announced yesterday that two males of another species of fruit pest, the Oriental fruit fly, were trapped earlier this week in the La Costa area of Carlsbad.

The quarantine, announced yesterday by the California and U.S. departments of agriculture, restricts the movement of citrus fruit, nursery stock and other host plants within the affected area.

The boundaries extend from the border with Mexico up the coast to state Route 78, and east to Ramona and Tecate.

The psyllid, discovered in Tijuana in June and in San Diego County two weeks ago, can be a carrier for a citrus-destroying bacterial disease known as huanglongbing, which is Chinese for “yellow shoot disease.” The disease, which renders fruit inedible, has devastated Florida's citrus industry.

Since psyllids were first discovered near the Sweetwater Reservoir two weeks ago, more than 250 of the bugs have been found in the county. State officials said that all but one – a psyllid discovered Wednesday in Dulzura – have been found on seven properties near the reservoir.

It's still unclear if the insects found locally carry the disease, said Steve Lyle, a spokesman for the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Several were sent to U.S. Department of Agriculture headquarters for analysis, and more tests are pending. The insects found in Tijuana were disease-free.

“We are trying to keep the pest, most directly, from going to northern San Diego County, which is where citrus production is, and beyond,” Lyle said.

Under quarantine rules, commercial citrus grown within the quarantine zone must be cleaned and packed before it can be moved out of the area. Nursery host plants, which include not only citrus but several ornamental species, may not be moved. The movement of green waste also is restricted, and backyard growers are urged to keep their fruit at home.

Lyle said it has not been decided if a widespread eradication program will be implemented.

While the bulk of commercial citrus operations in the county lies north of the quarantine zone, numerous lemon, orange and nursery businesses are affected.

Many local growers ship fruit outside the county to be packed, so the rules could present problems, said Chuck Badger, a lemon grower based in Rancho Santa Fe. He said only three packing houses are within the quarantine area.

“The one we use is not big enough to handle all of our fruit,” said Badger, who has much of his packing done in Corona. “Harvesting is over for this year, but come January or February, we are going to have to have an answer.”

According to the San Diego County Farm Bureau,the county produced nearly $60.5 million worth of wholesale citrus fruit in 2007.

In Carlsbad, state agriculture workers will begin eradicating the Oriental fruit fly tomorrow within an 8.7-square-mile area of where the flies were trapped, using pesticide-laced food for the insect. People are urged not to move fruits and vegetables out of the area.