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Asian citrus psyllid is in Arizona, but HLB isn’t there yet

“We’re surrounded,” an Arizona Department of Agriculture official says about citrus greening.

The disease, also called HLB, “has already decimated citrus groves in the other major citrus-producing states of Florida, California, and Texas,” the Arizona Republic reports.

“Once you have it,” says Arizona citrus farmer James Truman, “you’re screwed.”

“Though the microscopic insect that transmits the disease, the Asian citrus psyllid, has been found across Arizona, he said the disease hasn’t been detected within the state yet, making it a rare haven for citrus trees,” according to the report.

Arizona wants to keep HLB out of the state. It is helping farmers eliminate the psyllids, first with pesticides, and then through a University of Arizona initiative with researchers nationwide “to develop a pesticide that targets certain psyllid genes so that either the psyllids die, the psyllids can’t reproduce, or the psyllids can’t transmit the disease.”

The genetic solution is specific to the psyllids and won’t harm beneficial insects like bees.

Of course, there’s a concern that genetically modified insects will have unforeseen negative consequences.

Arizona should avoid CRDF’s mistakes

Let’s hope Arizona doesn’t make the mistake of Florida’s Citrus Research and Development Council (CRDF), which under Rick Dantzler has wasted precious years catering to disreputable companies like Monsanto and coming up with nothing to bring to market.

Arizona is lucky because its “extreme summers” keep psyllid populations down.

“I’m just confident that by the time these trees get mature, either somebody will come up with something to stop this disease in the trees or kill the insect that moves it around,” Truman said.

“Arizona has about 12,000 commercial acres of citrus trees with well over 100,000 trees. In 2019, Caravetta said the state Agriculture Department took more than 6,400 samples for testing and came up negative for the disease, a sign that preventative measures targeting the psyllid insects are working,” according to the report.

Extreme measures to save groves

Arizona is taking extreme measures to save its citrus groves. “If a tree is found to have citrus greening disease, the state would destroy the tree, and out of an abundance of caution, would destroy the rest of the grove as well,” according to the Arizona Republic.