Ted Batkin, a leader in the battle to keep a deadly disease from ravishing California’s $2 billion citrus industry, had some reassuring words for Jerry Halford, a Sultana citrus grower unsettled by the discovery of the first documented case of huanglongbing in the state.

“We’re going to beat it,” said Batkin, president of the Visalia-based California Citrus Research Board. “We have the tools to prevent us from getting into trouble.”

Batkin’s reassurance came just before he was to open a talk with growers in Tulare by stating, “We don’t have to be panicked.”

Batkin proceeded to talk of the irony that the disease that cropped up in Hacienda Heights in Southern California was likely the result of a gift of budwood as a traditional act of friendship in the Asian community.

Batkin was bullish on the industry’s survival prospects, despite the threat, saying, “We may be the last man standing,” thanks to steps taken to keep any outbreak of the disease in check.

But he is no Pollyanna and has been warning the industry for years about huanglongbing, HLB, a disease that destroys trees and has no cure. It has already brought significant losses to groves in Florida, Texas, China and Brazil. The Hacienda Heights find was the first in California, and the hope is that – unlike other regions – California has prepared well to keep the disease and the pests that spread it at bay.

HLB, also called citrus greening, is spread by the Asian citrus psyllid, a flea-sized insect that numbers in the millions in the Los Angeles Basin, but has not spread into commercial groves to the north.

“It’s like Mary’s little lamb,” Batkin said. “Wherever the psyllid goes, it’s followed by the bacteria. We knew it was here, and HLB was confirmed in California on March 30. ”

The culprit in the Hacienda Heights case involves a lemon-pomelo tree and a New Year’s “good luck gift” of an infected graft of pomelo, Batkin said. He said it is a tradition in the Asian community to give such gifts.

Now, he said, a 5 mile radius of the infected tree, 93 square miles, is under quarantine and trees can’t be moved from there. Citrus trees valued at $75,000 in that area will be destroyed.

The infected tree was removed and cut up for further inspection. It had 21 different bud grafts, Batkin said.