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Invasive Pest Threatens California’s $2 Billion Citrus Crop

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PLACER COUNTY (CBS13) — An invasive pest that has ravaged the southeast is threatening California’s $2 billion citrus crop.

Farmers across the state are worried about the Asian citrus psyllid that can spread a tree-killing disease called citrus greening.

“I’ve had friends go to Florida and send me back pictures of devastated orchards where it just looks like they stopped irrigating—just silhouettes of trees,” said Rich Ferreira with Side Hill Citrus.

Ferreira worries about his mandarin and lemon crops in Placer County, even though the insects haven’t been found in our area yet. But they have been found in Southern California, along with at least one case of citrus greening.

The state and federal governments are now fighting the insects with insects, unleashing wasps from Pakistan that lay their eggs under the psyllids.

“Like a big parasite, it eventually eats the larva, pupates inside and then eventually, a little adult wasp comes out of the psyllid,” said Dr. Lynn Kimsey, a UC Davis professor of entomology.

She says the insects that are so small you might not notice them can have an enormous economic impact.

“The truth is that this citrus psyllid is a little, tiny, maybe an one-eighth-inch long, optimistically, insect,” she said. “Very small for being so potentially devastating.”

The insects are yet another worry for farmers like Ferreira who are already breaking a sweat over the drought.

“There’s lots of things we have to worry about. you know, farmers in general,” he said. “The government, to lawsuits, you know food safety. There’s a whole host of things and this is just one more.”

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