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Apr 23, 2014 9:46 PM by LiLi Tan, KSBY News

Pesticides keep Citrus Psyllid at bay, potentially threaten bees

As the state sprays hundreds of properties in San Luis Obispo County with pesticides to keep the Asian Citrus Psyllid from spreading, bee keepers fear orange blossom honey production could decline. "I'm very concerned," said Gordon Wardell, senior bee biologist for Paramount Farming and adjunct professor at Cal Poly. "I've heard of the problems the bee keepers in Florida have with the citrus psyllid down there and the intensive pressure of having to spray." The California Department of Food and Agriculture has already completed spraying citrus trees within a half mile of a residence in Arroyo Grande, where a lone psyllid was found in March. This amounts to about 300 properties, according to the San Luis Obispo Agricultural Commissioner. "When bees were present or trees were in bloom, they did not apply a foliar application. Instead, they applied it to the root system of the plant, which protected the bees," said Ag Commissioner Martin Settevendemie, who still warns "the pesticides could affect bees." The citrus psyllid is an invasive species that, if carrying Huanglongbing or citrus greening disease, can kill citrus trees and make fruit deformed and bitter. More than half of Florida's citrus crop has already been lost to the disease, and at least one grower there has been fined for spraying pesticides illegally, as a bee keeper claimed the spraying led to the deaths of millions of bees. Honey bees that pollinate citrus trees that have been sprayed risk being exposed to pesticides, according to Wardell, and this can shorten the bees' lifespans. "You get bees to walk across a piece of paper that's been treated and you see the bee just lose motor action. It affects their central nervous system. I've seen hundreds of colonies negatively impacted due to pesticides," Wardell said. Bee keepers are sensitive to any increase in pesticides because of what happened in 2006, when colony collapse disorder wiped out about half of the bees in North America. Experts think pesticides may have contributed to the phenomenon. The Ag Commissioner says bee keepers are notified before spraying so they can move their hives. Wardell says the best time to spray is late afternoon or after dark, when the bees are not active. Bee keepers say citrus blooms are starting to fade, and bee farmers will move their hives near avocado or alfalfa plants next. Settevendemie says his department has only found one psyllid to date. If they do not find another one in the next two years, they will consider lifting the quarantine. As we approach summer and more people are traveling, the ag department asks people to only buy from reputable nurseries and not to transport citrus from Southern California, where there have been reports of huanglongbing.

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