Why share this?

Over the past few years, I’ve shared updates from our farm. Usually I like to share the moments and images that make farming a joy. Sometimes I post to give people an insight into farming that they might not otherwise have. Tonight’s post falls in the latter category.

Tomorrow morning we will be spraying the citrus trees in our Santa Paula orchard to help control the Asian Citrus Psyllid. The “ACP” is a vector for a bacterial disease called Haunglongbing (or “HLB”) which is deadly to citrus trees. More info on the pest and disease here.)

127.jpg

Picking some fruit for our household tonight before tomorrow’s treatment, I was able to spot multiple adult psyllids with my naked eye. I was even able to get this picture with my phone. This is an actual ACP, and that is my finger, in our grove today. 3/15/2016.

Usually farmers are reluctant to talk about spraying in a public forum. Why not simply let this pass unmentioned? Because it is too important. This pest/disease combo has destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres of citrus in Florida because they were too late to stop it. We have been forewarned, and while the tools available to us aren’t perfect, they may slow the spread until some better options come available in the next few years. For now, Ventura County growers are voluntarily treating in a coordinated fashion to try to minimize the areas where ACP populations can flourish. Growers both large and small are part of this effort. All treatments are being done under the regulations established by the EPA, CDFA, California Department of Pesticide Regulation, and our Ventura County Agricultural Commissioner.

If I have generated any goodwill over the years, please believe me when I say that this is both important and our best opportunity to preserve California’s citrus trees for the future. This disease has spared no citrus… large orchard or small, backyard or commercial, conventional or organic.. it has not mattered in Florida. But we can still stop it here.

Thank you.

Considering “GMO Oranges”

This week’s New York Times article on genetically modified oranges has generated a lot of discussion, much of it reflecting nuances that have been absent in the larger debate over GMOs. (Read the article here, if you haven’t already. ) But there are a few points that I think are not well represented in the article.

It’s not just oranges: The Huanglongbing (HLB) bacteria is fatal to all citrus varieties, not just oranges. Lemons, tangerines, grapefruit, limes… everything. No orange juice, lemonade, margaritas or cuties in the lunch box. None in the backyard; none at the farmer’s market.  HLB does not discriminate between large growers and suburbia, or organic and conventional.

Genetic modification is just one possible avenue: The citrus industry is exploring a wide range of solutions. The search is on for naturally resistant citrus varieties, insect parasites and predators that feed on the Asian Citrus Psyllid that spreads the disease, antibiotics to cure infection, vaccines that could prevent infection, better trapping to quickly identify psyllid infestations, better control over the shipment of citrus fruit and plant materials, broader area treatment programs to prevent “islands” from reinfecting cleaned areas, better tests to identify the presence of HLB bacteria in a tree before it is symptomatic… the list goes on.  Probably no single approach will be the “silver bullet”, but it will be at least 5 years before we can clearly see which of these approaches or combination of approaches can be successful.

This really isn’t about Monsanto: The business practices, lobbying and litigation strategies pursued by Monsanto have been a major part of the broader debate over GMOs, but Monsanto is a peripheral player in this discussion at most.

I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t know what the answer is. Personally, my hunch is that some combo of options other than genetic modification will prevail. And yes… we are continuing to plant conventionally grown citrus trees. (No GMO trees are being produced outside of the research world, nor do I expect them to be for at least 5 to 10 years.) But if there was ever a case to be made for using genetic engineering for a food crop, this is it. This is not about bumping up yields, or reducing cultural costs. We may be looking at a future where citrus is confined to botanical gardens and academic germoplasm repositories. We need to be smart, but we also need to do something.

Tamarixia to the Rescue?

As of this week, Ventura County may have a new favorite insect: Tamarixia Radiata. Following research done at the University of California, Riverside by Dr. Mark Hoddle and his team, the USDA is now evaluating a plan to release Tamarixia as a bio-control on the Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP), the vector for Huanglongbing (HLB) bacteria. Dr. Hoddle reports that the USDA has agreed to a “fast-track” review process, which could authorize release of Tamarixia by the end of the 2011.

The Asian Citrus Psyllid and the disease caused by HLB has been responsible for destroying tens of thousands of acres of citrus in Florida and other parts of the world. ACP is now well established in Los Angeles County, although the HLB disease has not yet been reported in California. Tamarixia offers the potential to suppress the ACP population in urban areas where pesticide applications are not a viable means for combating the pest.

What does this mean for Ventura County? For starters, we will not likely see many Tamarixia in our orchards and backyards any time soon. They will be most effectively employed reducing the ACP population in areas heavily infested. But the smaller the urban Los Angeles population of ACP is, the lower the probability of a full scale infestation in rural Ventura County. Should the HLB bacteria find its way to California, a minimal ACP population will be less capable of spreading the disease. This has huge economic implications for the citrus industry, as well as the backyard orange trees that are an iconic piece of Southern California. It could also eliminate the need for tremendous quantities of pesticides, good news to both farmers and their neighbors.