Alan Loghry’s voice echoes with frustration and anger over the half-million dollar hit his family’s wholesale citrus nursery has taken since a federal psyllid quarantine took effect in Yuma County, Ariz., last November.
“We’ve lost about 98 percent of our citrus tree sales (due to quarantine restrictions),” Loghry said. “That’s about 95 percent of our income. We’ve been shut off from our customers in Phoenix and Tucson which we’ve had for 40 to 50 years.”
The elder Loghry and son Mark, third- and fourth-generation nurserymen respectively, own and operate the 60-acre Sunset Nursery, Inc. in Yuma.
“Financially we can’t keep going on like this forever,” the senior Loghry said.
Due to shipping restrictions, the Loghrys have shipped three truckloads of trees since the quarantine began Nov. 5, 2009.
The quarantines in Yuma County and southern California involve state and federal agencies. The goal is to prevent the spread of the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP).
The psyllid is the primary vector for the destructive bacterial disease Huanglongbing (HLB), Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus, or citrus greening.
The Western citrus industry is feeling the financial pinch from the insect. Many citrus leaders contend it is a matter of “when,” not “if,” HLB is found in the Golden State. Unknown is whether the disease can exist in the hot summer heat in California and Arizona’s low desert citrus-growing region.
HLB kills every tree it infects. Odd-shaped, sour-tasting fruit from infected trees is un-marketable. HLB tree symptoms, including yellowing foliage, are generally visible three to five years after inoculation.
HLB has devastated the citrus industry in Florida, the nation’s top citrus producing-state where production is primarily for the juice market. The psyllid was first found in Florida in 1998; HLB was confirmed in 2005. Florida citrus growers destroyed about 20,000 citrus trees last year due to the HLB and citrus canker diseases.
California is the nation’s second largest citrus-producing state and the largest grower of fresh citrus. Most citrus is grown in the Central Valley with orchards also located in southern California.
About 75 percent of the Arizona citrus crop, mostly lemons, is grown in Yuma County.
The ACP was first found in the West in a sticky trap in San Diego County, Calif., in fall 2008. Psyllids were later found in traps in Imperial, Los Angeles and Orange counties.
A trained Labrador retriever dog intercepted a psyllid in a duffle bag with contraband plant material at a Federal Express office in Fresno, Calif.
The first psyllid find in Arizona was near San Luis (Yuma County) in October 2009. Eight psyllids were trapped as of late May, all in Yuma County, according to Brian McGrew, quarantine program coordinator with the Arizona Department of Agriculture (ADA). The last psyllid find was March 31.
About 6,500 traps are placed across Arizona. McGrew says the San Luis find had the only breeding population.
“The psyllid quarantine is necessary to maintain trade for the export of commercial citrus fruit,” McGrew told the crowd. “It is also necessary to minimize potential pest expansion through pathways, maintain a small quarantine footprint, and minimize the impact to industry outside of the quarantine area.”
Loghry says the psyllid has not been found at Sunset Nursery. The closest find was four miles away.
“The psyllid itself is not a problem,” Loghry said. “The problem is the regulation that comes along with it. We’ve been virtually shut down by the state and federal governments.”
Loghry is critical of the one-size-fits-all quarantine requirements for citrus nurseries in states where the psyllid, HLB, or both are found.
“The quarantine needs to be made flexible to fit the situation,” Loghry said. “The quarantine needs to be flexible so we can follow the rules and continue doing business.”
Sunset Nursery has laid off 80 percent of its workforce due to decreased sales. The remaining employees are constructing a screenhouse to serve as a product finishing house. A greenhouse built last year serves as the propagation house. Both are designed to protect against the psyllid, plus other insects and diseases.
Between lost sales and the first screenhouse, the Loghrys have $1 million at stake in the psyllid.
The Loghrys have sold a few trees in quarantined areas in southern California, but it is a tight market, Alan acknowledges.
Several shipments were recently sent to Las Vegas, Nev., a non-citrus producing state, under strict shipping requirements. The plan was developed under a cooperative effort by Cheryl Goar of the Arizona Nursery Association; Arizona State Representative Lynne Pancrazi of Yuma; and Osama El-Lissy of USDA.
What happens to market-ready trees the Loghrys cannot sell?
“The trees cannot stay in pots or boxes forever,” Loghry explained. “We dig a big hole in an open area and throw the beautiful trees away. It’s very frustrating.”
Financial impact of psyllid
Associated Citrus Packers, Yuma, Ariz., has also been impacted financially by the psyllid quarantine.
The family-owned business is the second largest citrus packer in Arizona. The C.V. Spencer family also grows about 1,500 acres of citrus, mostly lemons, on the Yuma Mesa. Ironically, the company shares the same “ACP” acronym as the psyllid.
Notably, the sixth and seventh psyllid finds in Yuma County were in a single Associated Citrus lemon grove, the only commercial Arizona citrus operation where the insect has been found. The other finds were in residential neighborhoods.
ACP shipped about 1 million cartons of citrus during the 2009-2010 season; about 25 percent to 30 percent for export, including to Australia.
Mark Spencer, a partner in Associated Citrus Packers, said, “For the Australian market we’ve had to implement a new protocol at our packinghouse where the USDA inspector examines fruit from each packed lot so they (Australian buyers) could get double assurance that the psyllid could not end up in Australia.”
Another increased cost to the company is an extra required step for citrus not suitable for the fresh market, scarred fruit for example, which is sent to byproduct plants mostly in California to make oil concentrate. Until this year, some of this fruit was shipped directly from the orchards to the byproduct plants.
“Now we have to bring the citrus from the field into our packinghouse to eliminate any leaves and stems before the citrus is shipped to the byproduct plants,” Spencer said.
The extra step cost the company about $30,000 this past season.
McGrew discussed the ACP, HLB and the quarantine during the 2010 Desert Ag Conference held in Casa Grande, Ariz., in May.
Adult psyllids are 3-4 millimeters long and feed at a 45-degree angle. Eggs and nymphs are found on new tree growth. Once the psyllid is infected, the HLB pathogen is found in the hemolymph and salivary glands. The adult lifespan is one to two months.
Positive identification of HLB is conducted through a DNA-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis. No HLB-resistant citrus cultivar is available, but research is underway.
McGrew says internal tree symptoms of HLB include phloem plugging, the blocked transport of sugar, starch accumulation, and the loss of the internal structure of chloroplasts which results in yellowed leaves.
HLB-infected trees can have poorly developed root systems. New root growth can be suppressed.
Crop hosts for the psyllid include all citrus varieties including hybrids and some citrus relatives in the Rutaceae family.