Citrus growers in Orleans, Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes are keeping their eyes trained for the Asian citrus psyllid, and rightfully so. The dangerous insect, which resembles a tiny cicada, can wipe out an entire orchard if not addressed, and it has been spotted in southeast Louisiana. That's a big deal, especially when you consider that citrus is a $6.4 million agricultural industry in Louisiana. While the insect is a major threat in and of itself, the psyllid also spreads citrus greening disease, a plant malady that prevents citrus fruit from ripening and ultimately kills the tree. Symptoms of the disease may not show for years, but as symptoms emerge, the entire tree eventually will turn yellow and die. Moreover, nearly all citrus species are susceptible to citrus greening.
Due to the importance of the industry in Plaquemines Parish — it brings in more than $4 million a year — parish President Billy Nungesser organized aerial treatments last week. Other parishes nearby are simply watching the potential threat. According to LSU AgCenter entomologist Dr. Natalie Hummel, it's difficult to gauge the threat zone because areas can have the insect, but not have the disease. "Since it was first found in Algiers, greening disease also has been found in Washington Parish," Hummel says. "I think there were two or three trees that were found, and all those trees have been removed voluntarily and destroyed by the state."
Florida is fighting the disease as well, and farmers in California are trading their infected trees for free trees from that state. Around the globe, parts of Africa, Asia and South America are infected, and many Brazilian farmers have had to abandon their crops altogether. — Alford