H-SANTA MARIA

Feb 28, 2013 8:40 PM by Cameron Polom, KSBY News

Citrus bugs invade Central Coast

The California Department of Agriculture has begun spraying pesticide in Santa Maria.

They're hunting down a deadly citrus bug, a pest that carries a disease capable of devastating entire citrus orchards.

It was discovered in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara in October of last year.

"Recently in this area, we've found two so far," said Cathleen Fisher, Santa Barbara County Agricultural Commissioner.

And they have quite a bite.

"The psyllid is extremely small, and it feeds on the tree by piercing the leaves, and feeding on the juices of the tree," said Fisher.

Through feeding, the bug spreads what's known as citrus greening, a bacterial disease that can wipe out acres and acres of citrus trees.

Recent surveys by the Department of Food and Agriculture have found the bug, but they have yet to find one carrying the disease in the state.

Over the next few weeks, workers will find and try to eradicate bugs in citrus trees in neighborhoods and orchards using pesticides.

"It turns your fruit sour or bitter first and you'll notice a slow decline, and within five years, the trees will be dead," said Joseph Cavaletto, a local citrus grower.

Cavaletto owns 120 acres of citrus in Nipomo. He says if the disease does show up, it could have a devastating impact.

"It could put us out of business, literally," said Cavaletto.

With a 12.2 million dollar citrus industry on the line, ag officials aren't taking any chances.

"If the psyllid was to become established in Santa Barbara County it would only be a matter of time before such as Florida, before the disease would show up," said Fisher.

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