A well-attended meeting in Tulare, Calif., was evidence the citrus industry believes the invasion of the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP) into the heart of the state’s citrus belt is a “when — not if” situation.

The pest is knocking at the door to the San Joaquin Valley, just to the west in Ventura County where several ACP were found in yellow panel traps, most recently in October. With the pest comes the threat of the fatal citrus disease Huanglongbing (HLB). The pest and the disease are responsible for sweeping losses to the Florida citrus industry and much higher production costs due to pesticide applications. HLB has not been found in California. None of the ACP trapped so far in the state were carrying the bacteria.

Henry Gonzales, Ventura County agriculture commissioner, told growers, packers, PCAs and others that he began preparing for the inevitable in 2008 when ACP was found in Imperial and San Diego counties.

“We didn’t want the same experience that occurred in 1994 with the Medfly,” said Gonzales, referring to widespread public resistance to pesticide sprays to knock down populations.

“What Ventura County experienced may not be the same in the valley,” Gonzales added. “With finds in residential settings there was a fear that eradication would not be allowed. We wanted people to understand why we need to keep this pest out or eradicate it if it’s found here.”

Gonzales said he began outreach programs to the county government and urban residents to education them about the pest and its probable effect on the county’s valuable citrus industry plus their own backyard trees. Ventura County leads the state in lemon production with more than 17,000 acres. The county also has citrus packinghouses that pack fruit from Southern California counties where ACP has been found.

Gonzales said the county trained inspectors and placed traps in packinghouses. Citrus shipments from infested counties were subject to rejection if they contained leaves and twigs – possible ACP carriers. Green waste trucked in from urban areas was also suspect.

With the first ACP find in Ventura County in December 2010, Gonzales said he had the option of placing the entire county under quarantine or a 25-mile radius around the site where ACP was trapped. A countywide quarantine area made more sense, he said, because it made it easier to move fruit.

Continued state funding for ACP suppression in urban areas is a major concern, Gonzales said. The state has been treating infested areas, but if it is determined that they are not able to keep populations down, it may not continue.