Department of Agriculture targets citrus-killing insect

March 11, 2013

Agriculture officials are trying to prevent an insect-borne disease from wiping out citrus in western Arizona.

Asian citrus psyllid Adult Asian Citrus Psyllid (Photo by David Hall/USDA ARS)

The Asian Citrus Psyllid is only about as big as the tip of a ballpoint pen, but it can do a lot of damage. It feeds off the stems and leaves of citrus plants, and it can carry Citrus Greening Disease. The disease makes the fruit a plant produces taste like cough syrup and eventually kills the plant.

No cases of Greening Disease have been found in Arizona, but about 50 psyllids were recently found around Lake Havasu City. That prompted state officials to put a 20-mile area under quarantine, which means nobody can move citrus plants to areas outside the quarantine and the public should only buy citrus trees or fruit that have been inspected and certified.

ā€œCitrus fruit production in Arizona is worth about $37 million to our agricultural economy," said John Caravetta, Associate Director of the Arizona Department of Agriculture. "The sale of citrus nursery stock, as well, is very, very important to our nursery industry and it is very much in demand by the public.ā€

Part of Yuma County has been under quarantine since 2009. Caravetta said his department thinks that area has succeeded in eradicating the insects.