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Citrus-disease pests multiplying, increasing fears of HLB

July 31, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
It's described as the most deadly citrus disease in modern history: Huanglongbing, or HLB, has already been found in Hacienda Heights and it has the potential to wipe out California's citrus crop.

Technicians with the California Citrus Research Board are scanning each trap meticulously, one at a time, for the Asian citrus pest. If they find one, they'll mark it with a red dot, and send it next door where the pest will be tested to see if it's carrying HLB, also called "citrus-greening," a disease that's devastating to citrus crops.

"This is a disease that when it gets into the plant will kill the tree -- there is no recourse, there's no fixing the plant once the disease is there," said Ted Batkin, California Citrus Research Board president.

So far they've only found pests carrying HLB in the Hacienda Heights area. But with each passing day they're finding more of the Asian citrus psyllid, the insect pest that carries HLB, which means they're spreading; which also means the disease itself could be spreading.

"Almost exponentially every month it increases," said Batkin.

What they don't want to find is a trap with many red dots. Each small red dot is one instance of finding the pest. It used to be that they found something about once a week. Now they find enough in one day to fill a box.

"We've never had a problem quite like this before. This is career-threatening. This could take us out of the ballgame," said John Gless, a citrus farmer.

Gless met with other citrus farmers and the Citrus Research Board to talk about what to do next.

So far there's really no way to kill the disease, so their only option is to spray to kill the pest. But that gets pricey.

"It's going to be very expensive, but we have no choice at this point, until research comes up with some sort of a cure for this problem," said Gless.

It's something they'll continue to work toward, because at this rate, they say it's unlikely these pests will be leaving anytime soon.

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