Batkin’s third lightning rod, which Keck now inherits, is the fight against the Asian citrus psyllid and Huanglongbing.

Research projects underway across the globe aim to halt the disease or render the insect incapable of spreading the bacterium.

Once a tree is infected with HLB, several years can pass before the first visual symptoms of the disease occur. Symptoms include leaf moddling, yellowed shoots, and misshapen, bitter-tasting unmarketable fruit.

“The basic fact is once the Liberibacter gets in the tree it will ultimately die. It can be a slow death or fast death,” Batkin said.

The ACP-HLB issue first appeared on the CRB’s radar screen in 1998 as the pest-disease complex grew in citrus groves worldwide. By 2004, Brazil, the largest citrus region in the world, fought an uphill battle against the complex.  

Batkin joined a California citrus delegation which visited Brazilian groves to get a firsthand look. Afterwards, the CRB established an HLB taskforce to gather important data in case the disease made its way to the U.S.

Just one year later (2005), the disease was confirmed in Florida. The psyllid was first found in Florida in 1998.

Lessons learned from the Florida and Brazil experience, and others, have helped the western U.S. citrus industry prepare for the pest and disease.

Many California citrus leaders concur that HLB could wipeout the $2 billion-plus California citrus industry; a $2 billion-plus business – unless research tools and solutions are found.

Citrus is an estimated $65 million industry in neighboring Arizona.

In Spring 2008, the first psyllid was found in California in an insect trap near San Diego. Today, thousands of psyllids are found in the Golden State; mostly in residential areas in the Los Angeles Basin. Some psyllids have been captured in traps in commercial citrus.

In March of last year, the bomb fell on California citrus. The first case of HLB was found in a L.A.-area residential citrus tree. No other confirmations have been made.

About a dozen psyllids have been found in Arizona, but not HLB.