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New Crop Pests: As Different As Apples and Oranges


We're not saying that the L.A. area is being hit by seven plagues -- yet. However, the fire season seems to have arrived a little early this year and we are overdue for an earthquake. While we're waiting for the Big One, state agriculture officials are trying to deal with two non-native, crop-destroying pests: light brown apple moths and Asian citrus psyllids. The larvae of apple moths, which first appeared in California in 2007, don't just go after their namesake fruit, but are thoroughly satisfied with, say, devouring blackberries. In fact, says the San Jose Mercury News, "The light brown apple moth

consumes more than 2,000 different species of plants, including

landscaping plants, and more than 250 different types of crops."

Which is why the California Department of Food and Agriculture has been nervously monitoring the moth's flight southward. So far nearly 3,500-square-miles have been quarantined, an area stretching from the wine country to Long Beach. (You may have seen the warning signs driving up the I-5 through the Central Valley.) Because of recent finds in Long Beach, L.A. County has a  nine-square-mile quarantine zone.

Yet not everyone has been sold on the threat posed by the moth and a determined opposition has sprung up against eradication efforts. According to the Associated Press, the debate over the moth pits two sides that believe it "is either a voracious annihilator of fruits

or a benign bug indistinguishable from dozens of its relatives present

in California . . . The only thing certain about the invasive Australian pest at the center

of state eradication efforts is that a battle over government efforts

to combat it is ramping up among scientists, politicians and

environmentalists."

Our friends the psyllids, however, don't just eat crops, but bring a disease

to the table called "greening," which has already devastated Florida's

citrus industry. The tiny insect was discovered in Imperial and San

Diego counties last year, though, so far, none have been found to

harbor the greening disease there.

Still, Ted Batkin of the Citrus Research Board, a growers organization,

was blunt when he told  San Diego's Channel TV news, "The greening that

is spread throughout the state will eliminate the

citrus industry from California and it will also eliminate the ability

to grow trees in your back yard."

Psyllids have popped up in a Fresno FedEx facility

this summer -- and, very recently, in an Echo Park backyard. There is now

a five-square-mile quarantine zone around this backyard and, according to the L.A. Times, ground-level spraying is being considered as an eradication option. While Los Angeles and Orange counties are no longer big citrus-producing areas, the fear is that if not stopped here, the psyllids will move into the citrus-growing regions of neighboring Ventura and Kern counties, along with Tulare and Fresno counties further north.


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