Asian Citrus Psyllid

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The Asian Citrus Psyllid has been found in Arizona. It’s a pest that causes citrus tree leaves to turn yellow and ruins the fruit of the tree. Although greening disease caused by the bug has not been found here, agricultural officials are worried about the damage it could do to our $37 million citrus industry. John Caravetta, assistant director of the Arizona Department of Agriculture, will talk about the citrus psyllid.

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. State agricultural officials are worried about an insect that poses a serious threat to Arizona's $37 million citrus industry. Here to talk about the "Asian Citrus Psyllid" is John Caravetta, assistant director of the Arizona department of agriculture. Good to see you then and thanks for joining us.

John Caravetta: You, too. Thank you.

Ted Simons: We talked about this a year or so ago, and so far everything was kind of -- it's still out there, isn't it?

John Caravetta: It is, and actually, it became a bigger be pro in the southwest part of the state this last fall when the population of this insect exploded. And got ahead of our ability to go ahead and treat it, and try to keep it completely eradicated or suppressed.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about this "Asian Citrus Psyllid." How big is this? Can you see it? Does it fly around? What are we talking about?

John Caravetta: Well, it's about the size of a tip of a ball-point pen, so it's very difficult to see with a naked eye. If you are looking for one, but, in a tree where there may be multiples of these, you could see them because they will, they will jump around off the tree, and you can physically see them move around. And so, it's very easy to see once you have a population that's really large, and it takes quite a few of them to do that.

Ted Simons: So they are not buzzing around so much as hanging and jumping and bouncing around?

John Caravetta: They are kind of quiet, but their numbers are evident. They fly around like gnats when you start to see them in a tree.

Ted Simons: And there we see, there is a thumb, that's a small insect, isn't it?

John Caravetta: They are, and they are always perched at that angle like that, with their heads down towards the leaf to feed, and their back sides are up in the air, so a little easier to see that way.

Ted Simons: So, where did this insect come from? What's the story behind this thing?

John Caravetta: It's come from, from Asia, is one type of this particular pest. The other type is, has come from Africa, and it depends on, on where, where you are located in the globe as to what type you have, and we have the Asian variety here.

Ted Simons: How did it get here?

John Caravetta: That's a good question. With the global economy that we have, and the trade, that's one opportunity. The other opportunity is through the Caribbean and areas where they did establish and through hurricanes, a great way to spread them as well --

Ted Simons: Oh, my goon.

John Caravetta: So mother nature helps out in that regard a lot of times.

Ted Simons: They can blow around that much in the wind, huh? That far, too?

John Caravetta: They can, actually, with good prevailing winds, and they are pretty good flyers but they can be helped along with these winds.

Ted Simons: So how do you know if, obviously, if you see it, you know it's there, but if you don't see it, how do you know that, that the citrus tree is infected?

John Caravetta: You will know if a citrus tree is infected with the citrus greening disease, essentially, when the tree starts to absolutely decline. The fruit starts to look gnarly and has a very bitter cough syrup-like taste to it. You will have some indication that that could be one cause. Now, the disease does not occur here in Arizona, so it won't be anything that anyone would see commonly. But there is a lot of other diseases and insect damage, particularly this time of year, that may mimic the symptoms that we're looking at when we are talking about citrus greening disease, which is spread by the "Asian Citrus Psyllid."

Ted Simons: It sounds like Yuma county, and we have seen it in Lake Havasu? We have seen it all up the west side of the state, and the river cities. We have seen "Asian Citrus Psyllid." We have yet to find them in central Arizona, and also, we have yet to find the disease here in Arizona, as well.

Ted Simons: And is there a quarantine in effect anywhere?

John Caravetta: The quarantine remains in effect in most of Yuma Ccounty, and in Mohave County and parts of La Paz County, as well, where the residents are restricted from moving fruits from their backyards and moving citrus trees out of those quarantine areas to areas, let's say, in central, central Arizona where we don't have them. They are precluded from moving those.

Ted Simons: So, those of us here in central Arizona, with backyard citrus, be it tangerines, lemons, limes, whatever, should we be worried or on the watchout? What do we do?

John Caravetta: I think it's always good if you really want to preserve that tree in your landscape, and you enjoy that Production from it, that you consider the trees' health in any situation. So, keeping up with its nutritional demands, working with your nursery or local extension office, on how to, to care for your citrus trees, is very appropriate. And they are very much in tune with what are appropriate treatments to deal with some of these insects that plague citrus to begin with, which also, would have an effect on controlling agent citrus should we have a problem here in central Arizona.

Ted Simons: That's a good point. If, if your trees for whatever reason are not looking too hard, maybe it looks bad here or green there, are they more susceptible to something like this?

John Caravetta: The weaker, less healthy tree is always more susceptible to further damage, whether it be from the Bees or insects. It's very important that if you see something like that, you contact either the state department of agriculture, or your local county extension, or even your nursery, with a picture or a call and say that you have a problem, that you would like someone to look at.

John Caravetta: Should we be weary of citrus plants that we see at, at, you know, everything from Home Depot to some of the, some of the private nurseries, the independent nurseries here around town? Obviously, some of these things are grown here in Arizona, and some aren't. They come in from California. A bit worried about that?

John Caravetta: Absolutely not. It's a very highly regulated industry, and if you do purchase it from those outlets, you are buying product that's clean, and that has been, has been verified that it doesn't present a problem to the homeowners, it's going to go and plant it and receive it. The bigger challenge, make sure that you get instructions on how to care for it properly so you can enjoy it in the landscape.

Ted Simons: And we keep talking about backyard citrus. Some of us have a lot of them in our yards but the industry as a whole, how important -- citrus is one of the five Cs. And is it still one of the big guests here in Arizona?

John Caravetta: It is a big one. It has more potential than, than what we see out there in the industry currently, if it's about -- $37 million in sales, is what it represents, as far as an economic impact to Arizona, as well as the impact on the communities, where commercial citrus is produced, and the employment opportunities that are presented there, and the value of citrus, not only to, to the five C's, but also to the communities, as well.

Ted Simons: Is the citrus industry growing in Arizona? With all of the land development, it seems like a lot of these areas where the trees used to grow, are not growing any more.

John Caravetta: And we have seen a decline in the number of citrus acres in the state. And generally, that is partly because of land redevelopment, and reuse of, of land that was originally in those citrus groves. But, also, we see changeover in the industry, as well, as they move towards new varieties, perhaps, that, that may be more marketable or more attractive to consumers, or may present other export opportunities, as well. Those were all opportunities that we have in our state.

Ted Simons: So, last question, how serious at this point is this to Arizona citrus growers?

John Caravetta: It is absolutely exceptionally a serious situation with the, the population that we have and the efforts that we're trying to do to contain it and we need the public's involvement not to move the citrus or the plants, unless they get them from the outlets that you mentioned, and that will keep Arizona citrus healthy, not only for the commercial citrus industry, but for the homeowner, as well.

Ted Simons: All right, good information, and good to have you here. Thanks.

John Caravetta: Thank you, Ted.

John Caravetta:Assistant Director, Arizona Department of Agriculture;

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