The Labor Day weekend discovery of several populations of the dangerous Asian citrus psyllid in San Diego County – 11 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border near Sweetwater Reservoir – is causing further alarm within California’s citrus industry.

The Asian citrus psyllid – an aphid-like insect that feeds on the leaves of citrus trees and other citrus-like plants – can be a carrier of the fatal citrus tree disease, Huanglongbing, also known as HLB and citrus greening disease. The pest and the disease have already caused devastation in Asia, India, parts of the Middle East, and South and Central America. The pest and the disease have been found domestically in Hawaii, Texas, Louisiana and Florida. In Florida, the psyllid and HLB are ravaging the citrus industry, destroying acres of trees and putting the state’s $9.3 billion citrus industry at risk.

“This has the potential to be the death sentence for citrus trees in California,” said Ted Batkin, president of the California Citrus Research Board, which is augmenting state and federal regulators’ survey teams and laboratory analysis capabilities. “The mere presence of the psyllid is a sign of danger to the state’s citrus industry.”

Huanglongbing, or citrus greening disease, is a bacterial plant disease that – while not harmful to human health – destroys production, appearance and value of citrus trees, and the taste of their fruit and juice. Once a tree is infected with the disease, there is no cure and the tree will eventually die.

Samples of the psyllids found in San Diego by the USDA and California Department of Food and Agriculture are undergoing laboratory tests to determine whether the invasive pests carry the citrus greening disease.

The recent discovery comes on the heels of finding the dangerous Asian citrus psyllid earlier this summer just four blocks south of the San Diego-Tijuana border. Immediately following that find, the California Citrus Research Board and representatives from the USDA, California Department of Food and Agriculture, the University of California and the San Diego County Agricultural Commissioner’s office met with citrus growers and other citrus industry leaders to discuss the discovery and the threat it poses, as well as the industry and regulators’ plan of action. The Citrus Research Board is planning a briefing in Coachella, Calif., Sept. 4 and another meeting Sept. 25 in San Diego. In addition to the series of grower and industry meetings, the Citrus Research Board is also urging consumers to visually inspect their citrus plants for the Asian citrus psyllid. The board developed a consumer-oriented Web site – CaliforniaCitrusThreat.org – that reminds consumers to inspect for the psyllid monthly or whenever watering, spraying, pruning or tending trees and especially during times of active growth. It also offers photos and tips for visual inspection for the pest.

“It wasn’t a matter of if the psyllid would jump the border from Mexico but when,” said Batkin, who notes that California produces 26 percent of the nation’s citrus, following only Florida in production. “That time has come, and we – industry, consumers, growers and regulators alike – must be vigilant in protecting the future of California’s citrus trees.”

Visit CaliforniaCitrusThreat.org for tips on how to identify the Asian citrus psyllid and to find your local Agricultural Commissioner’s office. Alternatively, consumers can contact the California Department of Food and Agriculture hotline at 800/491-1899.