SELMA – Local and state ag officials say now that an initial spraying has taken place in town to combat the spread of a pest endangering the citrus industry, they’re calling on residents to be vigilant regarding their citrus trees.
“For the sake of protecting agriculture, we humans are a big factor,” said Gene Hannon, a staff entomologist with the Fresno County Agriculture Department.
On May 17 at the Selma library branch, officials answered questions for the public regarding spraying for the Asian citrus psyllid and what they can do about the problem. The bug had been found recently in town and in surrounding areas.
Psyllids attack citrus trees and transmits the deadly bacterial disease Huanglongbing to the plants, which can be fatal to trees and can even decimate whole orchards.
Hannon said residents can do their part by not only keeping an eye on their current trees and knowing what signs of infestation to look for, but to also check those they plan to buy.
“We’re inadvertently transporting the bug and it’s slowly progressing. In the future, if they buy citrus, buy it from clean sources,” he said.
Art Gilbert, an environmental program supervisor with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, told residents that bargain trees may harbor the pest.
“Don’t buy stuff from flea markets,” he said.
Gilbert said tree clippings may come from areas of the state with trees that have the disease.
Hannon stressed to residents how serious this infestation is and the outcome it could have.
“The pest can be devastating for the citrus industry,” he said. “It’s a major carrier of a disease that’s incurable, so we want to get ahead of it and stop the spread. That’s why anytime we find a new bug in any area, we treat right away to limit the spread.”
CDFA officials say after spraying that happened on May 20 and 21, citizens in other parts of town should still keep an eye on any current citrus plants they own.
Currently, the CDFA monitors citrus plants by placing 16 yellow traps per square mile on citrus plants. Those traps are inspected once a month, Hannon said. Those detection efforts will be stepped up now.
“Now that we’ve found them, we’ll increase the density of those traps to see if there’s more around that we don’t know of. If there are more, then there [will be] more treatments. If there’s not, they’ll treat that area only,” he said.
Among the residents who attended the meeting were Marie Milburn and her mother Deloris Burruss, who’ve lived in Selma for 36 years. Burruss has five navel trees that she’s glad will be treated.
“For my family that comes from Washington and Oregon and even Sacramento, this is a big deal to come to our house and pick an orange off the tree," she said.
Burruss said she may have let her grass go brown in an effort to meet drought restrictions, but she keeps those citrus trees watered by using water from her sink.
“I wanted to be on it because my trees are old and I don’t want to lose them,” she said.
Milburn said she didn’t realize how small the bugs were and that they carry the Huanglongbing disease for life.
“They’re willing to set up appointments to go inspect your trees and set up traps, so that’s a good thing,” she said.
Since the psyllid doesn’t differentiate between a homeowner’s citrus tree and a commercial citrus tree, Hannon said it’s just as important to protect the citizens’ trees, not just at the commercial level.
“They want to treat everybody’s citrus trees just in case,” he said.
Hannon said residents can look for the psyllid's yellow nymphs (the babies) that produce a white, waxy material.
“If it sounds like they actually have it, we’ll go look at right away. If the psyllid is there, the most there’ll do is a treatment. There’s no tree removal at this point. If the disease were to occur, it’s not in the Central Valley yet," he said.