Disease-carrying bug threatens California citrus plants

Asian citrus psyllid found on Southern California citrus crops

POSTED: 05:45 PM PDT Jul 17, 2013    UPDATED: 06:05 PM PDT Jul 17, 2013 
Asian Citrus Psyllid bug
GOLETA, Calif. -

Santa Barbara County agriculture officials are on the lookout for the Asian citrus psyllid. 

The bug may only be an 1/8 of an inch in size, but it carries a disease that is deadly for citrus crops. Huanglongbing, or HBL, can wipe out entire fields of oranges and lemons. 

"Leaves will start turning yellow, the tree is essentially dying, the fruit will be misshaped, it will taste bitter," said Alyssa Houtby with California Citrus Mutual. 

In Florida, Asian citrus psyllid is to blame for an estimated $3.64 billion and over 6,000 jobs lost. California's $2 billion citrus industry is now being threatened.

"The L.A. Basin is infested with the Asian Citrus Psyllid right now," Houtby said. "We want to make sure that no citrus material is brought up from that area."

For growers like Kenneth Doty, who operates more than 100 acres of citrus crops in Goleta, the Asian citrus psyllid could be devastating.

"If the disease ever does arrive after the establishment of the insect, it's real trouble," Doty said.

Officials say it's not just commercial growers who need to be on the lookout. Backyard gardeners are also being asked to watch for the bug.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture is placing traps in trees across the state hoping to get a jump on the Asian citrus psyllid before the problem gets worse.

For more information, call the California Department of Food and Agriculture hotline at 1-800-491-1899 or visit CaliforniaCitrusThreat.org.