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One of the greatest fears of California’s citrus industry came true this month: an Asian citrus psyllid carrying Huanglongbing disease (HLB) was found in the state. This tiny insect has been found in California before, but never before has a psyllid been found with HLB. In fact, HLB has never before been found on the west side of the Rocky Mountains! HLB has devastated citrus crops in Florida and Brazil and has the potential to devastate California’s citrus industry, worth more than $1 billion annually, as well.

The agriculture industry is facing an ongoing threat:  invasive pests. Twenty voluntary non-profit agricultural associations, including my organization, the California Grape and Tree Fruit League, formed the Invasive Species Coalition to address this threat. We are pleased to now join the efforts of the HungryPests Coalition in both preventing and effectively treating invasive pests and plants in California.

California has been able to build one of the most efficient economies in the world, as well as a superior quality of life, thanks in no small part to a vibrant agricultural community that feeds much of our nation and many people around the world. However, as more international travelers visit California and trade continues to increase, the threat of new invasive species arriving here grows every day.

The Hungry Pests project is preparing to unveil a new statewide advertising campaign designed to raise awareness of invasive species in California. You heard it here first—and you can see it first too, by visiting www.youtube.com/hungrypests.

I am extremely enthusiastic about this campaign. I have been working on invasive pest issues for the USDA in the State of California for almost 20 years, and this is the first time we’ve undertaken a campaign that is as informative and attention-grabbing as this.

The message about the dangers posed by invasive pests is an important one.  Few residents are aware of the serious threat invasive pests pose to California’s agricultural and natural resources and to its economy.

Pest detection and management is an ongoing and extremely important area of agriculture. San Diego County has a robust agricultural industry—which means we are also faced with an ongoing battle to manage agricultural pests. Everything from Asian citrus psyllid to the Diaprepes root weevil to the Mediterranean fruit fly, or Medfly, has been found in our area and could greatly damage our agriculture and backyard crops.

For example, some areas of the County are currently under Medfly quarantine. After several years of no Medfly problems, we’re experiencing the second outbreak this year. Both Spring Valley and Mira Mesa, near the Mira Mar Marine Corps base featured in “Top Gun,” are quarantined. Medflies were found in backyard trees through the ongoing fruit fly detection program conducted by the County with federal and state funding.

We recently received final LBAM counts for the first half of 2009 and compared the number of confirmed findings so far this year with counts at the halfway point last year. The numbers are astonishing, even to those of us who have been tracking the pest for some time now.

From May 2008 to May 2009, the number of square miles where LBAM is found in California has nearly doubled—from 509 square miles to 980 square miles. The number of square miles in California under quarantine grew from 1,860 square miles in May 2008 to 2,922 square miles in May 2009, an increase of more than 1,000 square miles.

Reposted with permission from California Farm Bureau Federation and author Paul Underhill.  Published June 24, 2009.

Commentary: City residents and farmers should work together against moth

By Paul Underhill

Organic farmers spend lots of time walking their fields, looking for insects and diseases. We know there are some insects we don’t need to worry about, while others potentially can threaten an entire crop. When we find the latter, we act quickly to eliminate them before their populations explode, using pest controls that are ecologically friendly and approved for use in organic farming.

Central American pineapple is one of the biggest and freshest imports we receive at the Port of Long Beach. Some people find this tasty fruit most appetizing on pizza, while others enjoy it best in salsa. For a variety of invasive species, however, these pineapples are interesting as a means of transit.  The invasive species found during inspection of these shipments include snails, insects and weed seeds.  Many of the insects don’t feed on the pineapples but instead are “hitchhikers” – pests that, in effect, “hitch a ride” on the produce.  While pineapple may not be a mainland crop in the U.S., many of the “hitchhikers” found in the crop shipments are generalists who can feed on a wide variety of host plants.

Once a damaging invasive pest has been discovered in the California ecosystem, the next step is to determine the best method(s) for controlling and eliminating the pest.

Many insect pests have a short lifecycle of only 60 – 90 days. During this time, they mature, reproduce and die. Their numbers quickly grow exponentially. While it can take years for the damage they wreak to become casually apparent, once that level of infestation has been reached it can be almost impossible to eliminate or effectively control the pest. Early management is absolutely essential.

When an invasive pest, such as an insect or plant disease is confirmed in California by an agriculture inspector, an agriculture quarantine may be set up to prevent the pest from moving into other areas of the State. This is a key step in controlling and eliminating the threatening pest.

California is rich with greenery and vegetation that many of us enjoy. Unfortunately, invasive pests also enjoy these resources and can spread quickly across the State unnoticed.

Welcome! I am very excited to be able to share my thoughts about the very real and increasing threat of invasive pests in California. Through the HungryPests blog, I hope to connect with those of you who already follow the invasive pest problem and who care deeply about protecting our State’s resources. I also hope to reach out to others in the public who have questions and don’t know where to find the answers. Invasive pests – and perhaps more importantly, what to do about them – is an important topic for California. And I sincerely hope you join me in this conversation.