County votes to empower Valley citrus farmers

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Mark McBroom Citrus
Citrus grower Mark McBroom speaks in favor of the Citrus Pest Control District with Ag Commissioner Connie Valenzuela looking on

EL CENTRO – A Citrus Pest Control District exists in the Imperial Valley, but only in the Bard Winterhaven region. It was formed in 1970 to combat California Red Scale which has been eradicated there. Due to lack of a quorum to close, the district remained open, but non-functioning.

Now, with hundreds of acres of citrus grown in the Valley proper, growers want to expand the District, but not to control California Red Scale, although that is now present.

The danger citrus growers see is Huanglongbing (HLB), also known as citrus greening disease. It is a bacterial plant disease that is fatal for citrus trees and incurable.  HLB is spread by the Asian citrus psyllid, a tiny insect that feeds on the leaves and stems of citrus tree. This disease has decimated the Florida Citrus orchards and local growers are determined to stop the insect so the same won’t happen here.

The growers petitioned to expand the district to fight the psyllid themselves, knowing the state was out of money and couldn’t help. The first vote was virtually a tie, Imperial County Agricultural Commissioner Connie Valenzuela said. After realizing that votes had been computed by both gross and net acreages by different farmers, they standardized the voting of one vote per one net acre and in November of 2012, a second vote passed with72% of the citrus acreage landowners voting in favor.

Now the County Board must vote to accept the expansion and the board members.

Five Imperial Valley citrus landowners have volunteered to serve as the first board members for the newly-expanded district. They are Donald Barioni, Jr., Joseph Colace,Jr., Lawrence Cox, Patrick Dockstader, and Mark McBroom.

Citrus grower Mark McBroom spoke to the board saying, “As we watch the Asian Citrus bug that carries the disease move into our Valley, which has virtually destroyed the citrus industry in Florida, we realize we are looking at a very daunting task before us.”

McBroom said he sits on boards where he sees maps and counts of the psyllid. He said it was spreading fast. All California citrus growers contribute between 15 and 16 million dollars annually that then is used to eradicate the insect and educate the public, especially those that have citrus trees on their property, according to McBroom.

“We are asking you to protect our investments, our orchards, and the citrus industry in the Valley with your vote today. Jobs are on the line. Basically every ten acres represent one job, either in growing, harvesting or processing, and there are over 6000 acres in citrus,” McBroom said.

With the control district expanded to include the entire Valley, the farmers can have the control to manage the bug and disease with a lot of flexibility, creativity and ingenuity.

Joe Colace, president of Five Crowns, another citrus grower said, “I encourage you to see the dire condition we face, to evaluate what this insect has done to Florida. This should motivate us to do all that we can do to stop the problem now.

Supervisor Michael Kelley agreed. “Anytime we can help the growers of the Valley, we should. “

The board voted unanimously in favor of the Pest Control District and for the new board members.

The Insect:

Asian Citrus Psyllid

The Asian Citrus Psyllid - Diaphorina Citri Kuwayama

The psyllid can carry one of the most devastating citrus diseases in the world, Huanglongbing.

California residents play a critical role in protecting our state’s citrus.

The insect:

  • Feeds on citrus leaves and stems.
  • Has been found throughout Southern California.
  • Poses a huge threat to backyard trees and commercial citrus.

The Disease:

Huanglongbing (HLB)

Leaves of a citrus tree with Huanglongbing citrus greening disease

HLB, also known as citrus greening disease, is fatal for citrus trees.

Once a tree becomes infected, there is no cure and it will die.

The disease is spread by an insect called the Asian citrus psyllid.

The disease:

  • Was found in Southern California in 2012.
  • Destroys production, appearance and value of citrus trees.
  • Makes trees produce bitter, inedible, misshapen fruit, and will eventually kill the tree.