Wednesday, May 4, 2016
Rash of psyllid finds reported
By Rick Elkins
Five psyllids in past week
It is expected the discovery of Asian citrus psyllids would increase when trees have new growth like they have now, but the number of discoveries the past 45 days is alarming.
Since March 1, there have been 15 separate discoveries of the tiny pest that can carry the citrus disease huanglongbing (HLB). Of those, five have been discovered in the past 10 days, Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner Marilyn Kinoshita reported Tuesday.
All of the pest have been found on traps and no live psyllids have been discovered and none have been found carrying HLB.
“It’s a bunch,” said Bob Blakley with California Citrus Mutual. “That’s what we’ve always been afraid of,” he added of the rash of finds.
Of great concern, Kinoshita said, is the discovery of 10 separate psyllids in the area of the juice plant in Tipton just off Highway 99. Including last year, there have been 12 discoveries there where fruit is brought in from all over the state to be made into juice.
Kinoshita said while they have tried to keep an eye on the fruit coming into the plant, it is not possible to be there all the time. She said not only can the tiny bugs — smaller than an aphid — ride on a stem or leaf, they can also hitchhike inside a truck.
“They’re (psyllids) are all over the place in Ventura County,” she said, saying people traveling to southern California should roll down their windows to rid their cars of any psyllids before heading to Tulare County.
The ag commissioner said trucks hauling citrus out of quarantined areas must have the fruit washed and be free of stems and leaves, and the load must be tarped.
She said a meeting with haulers is planned for this week and “I’ll be bringing up the fact [that with] all these finds at the juice plant that they are not doing their job.”
Of additional concern is the number of discoveries of psyllids in urban areas. Of the 15 finds, none have been in commercial groves and many have been discovered in residential areas of Tulare and the southern end of Visalia. She and Blakley both said several neighborhoods in Bakersfield have had several psyllid discoveries.
Prior to now, most finds have been in rural areas. Only four finds this year have been in the Orange Belt — two in the Porterville area, one in Lindsay and one in Terra Bella near a packing house.
Kinoshita said once a psyllid is discovered, state Department of Food and Agriculture workers will survey the area and treat where needed. However, she admitted, it is a bigger challenge working in neighborhoods than in commercial citrus groves.
Psyllids love the flush of new leaf growth on citrus trees and Kinoshita said flush can be expected for as long as another month.
State officials are encouraging homeowners to keep an eye out for signs of the psyllid.
“We encourage home citrus growers and farmers to go out with a magnifying glass or hand lens and look closely at the new growth,” said Beth Grafton-Cardwell, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) citrus entomologist, in a press release earlier this year.
“Look for the various stages of the psyllid — small yellow eggs, sesame-seed sized yellow ACP young with curly white tubules, or aphid-like adults that perch with their hind quarters angled up,” she said.
Pictures of the psyllids and their life stages are on the UC ANR website at http://ucanr.edu/acp. If you find signs of the insect, call the California Food and Agriculture Exotic Pest Hotline at 1-800-491-1899.
This year’s discoveries brings the total in Tulare County to 78 separate finds since late 2012. Just under 400 psyllids have been discovered, but only three live psyllids have been found here.
Fortunately, HLB has not shown up in the county, but more than 20 infected trees have been found in Southern California.
HLB is an incurable condition that first causes yellow mottling on the leaves and later sour, misshapen fruit before killing the tree.
Feared citrus pest discovered in Tracy
By Reed Fujii
TRACY — Local, state and federal farm officials scrambled Tuesday over the discovery in Tracy of a crop pest feared as the carrier of a disease fatal to citrus trees.
A single Asian citrus psyllid identified in the area of Lammers and Valpico roads in Tracy on April 27 has government experts setting out traps and inspecting trees and shrubs in the immediate area.
Tim Pelican, San Joaquin County agricultural commissioner, said the tiny insect is a dangerous pest.
“While San Joaquin County has very little commercial citrus, there is a $10.7 billion dollar industry statewide not counting the nursery industry,” he said in a news release Tuesday. “It is our duty to not only help protect the industry … but also the citrus that many of us grow in our own backyards.”
Pesticide applications to eradicate the exotic invader are being planned. Residents within the treatment area will be notified before any materials are applied.
Fortunately, other than a commercial nursery near the find site, there are few homes or other areas with landscaping that could provide a home for the Asian citrus psyllid, Pelican said.
“There’s not a lot of host material there,” he said.
If inspectors identify citrus trees or other plants that might host the psyllid within 100 meters of the find site, spray treatments might be needed.
Similar finds of the Asian citrus psyllid in Lodi and Manteca in late 2014 and in Stockton in December 2015 led to quarantines against the removal of citrus fruit and plant material, which remain in place.
Pelican said the unwanted pest has turned up in many parts of California, including in nearly all counties in the San Joaquin Valley.
“There’s been a lot of finds this last week up and down the Valley as well as in the Bay Area,” he said. “It’s one of those things that continues to march on, much as it did in the Southeast.”
The sap-sucking pest is feared for its ability to spread huanglongbing disease, also known as citrus greening. Together they proved devastating to Florida’s citrus industry and have also caused severe crop losses in Texas.
Pelican encouraged residents to inspect backyard citrus trees for the Asian citrus psyllid.
Adults are small, about the size of aphids, so it helps to have a hand lens for a closer look. It produces small yellow eggs; its sesame-seed sized juveniles are also yellow and excrete distinctive curly white tubules; the brown adults often feed with their hind quarters angled up.
“If they find it, (don’t) move citrus and especially leaves and stems outside of any quarantine area,” Pelican said. Rather residents should call California’s Pest Hotline at (800) 491-1899.
The psyllid, native of Pakistan and Afghanistan, was first detected in California in 2008. A few huanglongbing-infected trees have been found in urban Los Angeles County.
For more information on the Asian citrus psyllid and huanglongbing disease, visit cdfa.ca.gov/plant/acp.
— Contact reporter Reed Fujii at (209) 546-8253 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ReedBiznews.
Kamala Harris, silent on dams, says she would protect species law
By Christopher Cadelago
U.S. Senate candidate Kamala Harris said Tuesday that she would not support efforts to weaken the federal law governing endangered species, breaking with fellow Democrat and rival Loretta Sanchez, who has said she would be open to amendments to help address the state’s protracted drought.
“We have to support the Endangered Species Act,” Harris, the state attorney general, told The Sacramento Bee editorial board. “There’s just no question about that.”
The law has been used to protect fish such as the Delta smelt and Chinook salmon, and has long been at the center of debate between environmentalists and farmers. Asked in an editorial board meeting last week whether the Endangered Species Act should be looked at, Sanchez, a 10-term congresswoman from Orange County, said she believed so.
“Everything needs to be on the table when we go in to find a solution,” she said, adding it would be “very difficult to do” politically.
On Tuesday, Harris said it is wrong to focus so intently only on the smelt, citing a book she’s reading called “The Sixth Extinction.”
“The reality of it is that when species, which is what is happening on our globe, start to become extinct, at some point it will come to us,” Harris said. “So even if you don’t care about that small thing you might only be able to see under a microscope, you have to understand, and we have to appreciate and prioritize, the significance of the extinction of that species.”
While she does not want to change the species law, Harris said she has met with farmers in the Central Valley cities of Modesto, Stockton and Bakersfield and believes the industry’s interests also must be looked after.
“Both (the environment and agriculture) can be protected,” Harris said. “And I reject a false choice that you are on one side or the other – that it’s either a fish or a farmer.”
Harris and Sanchez both generally favor Gov. Jerry Brown’s controversial twin tunnels water-diversion plan. However, their answers diverge sharply on two proposed reservoirs that have been central to the water discussion for more than a decade.
Sanchez did not specifically address the Sites Reservoir in the Sacramento Valley, and said the Temperance Flat Dam on the San Joaquin River “would be a little more difficult to do,” but did not take a stand on it. She said she supports Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s water bill, which includes federal funding for above-ground water storage.
Asked her views Tuesday on the Sites proposal, Harris said “I am not familiar with it.” She gave the same answer about Temperance Flat.
Asked to clarify her answers after the meeting, a campaign strategist, Sean Clegg, said Harris meant to say she hadn’t reviewed all of the environmental documents and has not taken positions on the proposals.
Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago, email@example.com
Strawberry fight reignites as former UC Davis scientists sue over lucrative breeding technology
By Dale Kasler
UC Davis’ multimillion-dollar strawberry-breeding program is under legal attack again, this time from a pair of former UCD scientists who have gone into competition against the university.
California Berry Cultivars LLC, a company set up by two former Davis strawberry scientists, sued the University of California regents this week, saying they’ve been denied access to the fruits of their own labor – namely, a selection of plants they developed during their decades working at Davis.
The two scientists, Douglas Shaw and Kirk Larson, left UC Davis in 2014 to start California Berry with A.G. Kawamura, a former California secretary of food and agriculture.
Shaw and Larson’s departure already triggered one massive lawsuit, when the California Strawberry Commission accused the university of abandoning the strawberry-breeding program and letting the two men walk out the door with the priceless strawberry plants. That suit was settled in early 2015, when UC Davis hired a new strawberry breeder and reaffirmed its commitment to the industry.
The new case could have major impacts on California’s strawberry farmers.
UC Davis’ breeding program has been crucial to the industry and a big money-maker for the university. Between 2005 and 2014, strawberry nurseries around the world paid UC Davis royalties totaling $50 million. In return, nurseries and their customers – the farmers – have been able to deliver huge improvements in taste and durability developed by the Davis scientists. The two scientists themselves have earned several million dollars, their share of the university’s royalty income.
Strawberry varieties developed at UC Davis account for about half of California’s $2.6 billion-a-year crop. Some of the top names in the business, including Dole and California Giant, rely on UC Davis’ technology.
In its suit, filed in Alameda Superior Court, the new company said Shaw and Larson are entitled to license the plant varieties being housed at UC Davis. The suit says the university has refused to release the plants “in an apparent attempt to suppress competition.” In addition, the company said the university’s breeding program “has wound down” since Shaw and Larson left campus.
UC Davis, in a prepared statement, denied that it has let the breeding program fade since Shaw and Larson’s departure.
“While we are still evaluating the legal claims raised in the lawsuit, we intend to defend against it,” the university said. “The University of California strawberry breeding program is a robust one, and we remain committed to maintaining the program as a public breeding program, available to all in the California strawberry industry.”
Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler, firstname.lastname@example.org
Tree deaths rise steeply in Sierra; drought and insects to blame
By Edward Ortiz
Trees in California are dying at the highest rate in at least 15 years, raising the risk of faster-moving and more-intense forest fires, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Aerial surveys conducted by the service last year estimated a tenfold jump in tree mortality since 2014. According to results released last month, an estimated 27.6 million dead trees were found in the forest landscape last year. In 2014, an estimated 3.3 million dead trees were identified. The statewide aerial surveys date back to 2001.
The species most affected are low-elevation pines, especially Ponderosa, Pinyon and sugar pines, said Jeffrey Moore, forest health protection surveyor with the Forest Service.
The southern Sierra has been the area hardest hit – from the Eldorado National Forest south, Moore said.
About 20.8 million of the 27.6 million trees believed to have died are in the southern Sierra region, but elevated tree mortality has also been seen in northern forests.
“We’re getting reports from our foresters about elevated mortality in the Tahoe and Lassen areas,” said Moore. “They’re reporting a lot of mortality in lower-elevation pine stands.”
The dead trees are causing fires to burn faster and hotter, said Daniel Berlant, spokesman with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The Valley Fire in Lake County, which burned 76,067 acres and caused four fatalities last year, is symptomatic of the danger of dead trees.
“The Valley Fire … burned at a significantly fast rate and a lot of that had to do with the big patch of dead trees there,” Berlant said.
Drought and the spread of the bark beetle are spiking tree deaths. The beetles are the size of a rice kernel and can tunnel under bark to cut off a tree’s water and food supply.
A warmer climate allows bark beetles to live in high-elevation pines, with temperatures needing to drop below minus-20 for at least a week to kill a beetle brood, depending on the species, according to Beverly Bulaon, forest entomologist with the Forest Service.
Tree mortality numbers could rise even higher because the trees often take awhile to reveal they’re dying, Moore said.
“It takes a year or more for a tree to dry out and change color so we can see it from a distance,” he said.
The annual surveys are conducted from a Cessna aircraft flying in 3-mile grid patterns. The annual surveys demand 150 flights over 45 million acres.
“A lot of the trees killed last year still look green and healthy. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see double the mortality this year,” Moore said.
In the Tahoe Basin, mortality doubled in 2015. The rate also spiked in hot spots such as the Crystal Bay region, said Patricia Maloney, a UC Davis forest ecologist.
She said an estimated 35,000 dead trees were found in the basin last year.
Tree mortality has spiked in the past, but only in regional concentrations, as happened in the early 2000s in the Lake Arrowhead region of Southern California, said Jeannie Wade Evans, deputy regional forester with the Forest Service.
“In the last couple of years there has been tree mortality in Colorado and the West, but in California the mortality has been more wide-ranging than we’ve ever seen or recorded,” Evans said.
Edward Ortiz: 916-321-1071, @edwardortiz, email@example.com
Labor bills beg the question, has there really been change?
By Bruce Blodgett
Remember when we (the voters) changed the way elections are run in this state? A majority of voters decided that we should vote on the top two candidates for each state race regardless of political party. Some suggested this would enable the state to find more “centrist” candidates to work on behalf of the voters and their districts.
Well, that premise is being tested now. For the business owners in our region, I think all of us took notice when the state legislature quickly and decisively came to an agreement on raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour. In a legislature that often debates issues for years and achieves nothing, they managed to go from discussion, to agreement, to passing both the assembly and senate and ultimately signed by the governor in a matter of days. This was done with very little debate or discussion about how this would impact different sectors of our economy or the regional differences that occur in our state.
No, the legislature simply voted along party lines with members failing to consider the true impact of what they just did to our economy. The one argument we keep hearing is that if they (the legislature) didn’t act, then this would be done by ballot and that the bill passed has “off-ramps” to allow a governor to roll back the minimum wage. Okay, name me one of the candidates favored to win the next election to be our next governor who has made the promise that he or she would actually do this. The short answer is not one of the favorites will or has made such a commitment.
What is even more troubling is that most of the people who voted for the bill will no longer even be in office when the true impacts to our business and our regions are felt. Through the magic of term limits, they cannot be held responsible for their actions.
Fast forward to the new debate and this one only impacts agriculture. This bill is A.B. 2757 and it would drastically change the way agriculture is treated when it comes to labor. Currently, there is a 60-hour work week allowed for agricultural producers.
Agriculture has long had the benefit of a 60-hour work week for a couple of very simple reasons. Most importantly, this allowance was made to recognize the seasonal nature of the industry. There are reasons you do not see local asparagus in December, or cherries in August from our region as those harvest periods for us have long since passed. Recognizing this seasonality and also the perishability of so many commodities, legislatures across the nation understood that to produce food, we need to have standards that do not mandate you either pay your crews a lot more money or send them home after 40 hours.
Another key issue relates to competition. Farmers in our region not only compete with local growers but growers in other states and countries. Those that do compete with the food we produce understand one thing … that producing food for all parts of the world has been and should be a priority.
Most importantly, the 60-hour work week is best for the workers. With this allowance, the workers can maintain their income levels to offset the times of the year where there are no jobs available in food production. What these workers can save up during the summer months makes up for the times where the fields and processing facilities sit silent on a foggy or rainy day.
We hear so much about California as a farm to fork state and how important it is to support local farmers. It’s too bad our elected representatives in Sacramento do not seem to value these concepts. The decisions they are making are not only bad for agriculture, but also bad for the workers.
Historically, we have seen agriculture change over the years and this was largely due to one factor, available markets. Farmers grow what they can sell. A good example is Asparagus. At one point we had close to 60,000 acres of Asparagus in our county with the largest amount of that production going into “canned” products. Not many people eat canned asparagus anymore. Today we grow around 5,000 acres in this county.
With these policies agriculture will have to adapt to the labor rules that mandate one and only one action, reduce our labor force. What we would anticipate is greater mechanization within those crops we do grow and to switching to other commodities that do not require as much labor.
What these two policies (if A.B. 2757 passes) mean for agriculture is a drastic change and reduction in the need for labor and ultimately less production in the long run. What this means for consumers is more foreign food in the marketplace. As an example, go by the Costco in Lodi as I did recently and you will find asparagus packed by a local company but originating from Mexico. You can expect even more than that in the future should this bill pass.
What’s worse is that all of this is being done to allegedly benefit the farm workers. The two policies are a mandate to agriculture to reduce their labor force. There is no way the growers can afford to pay $15 per hour and shorten the work week.
For the sake of the workers, their pay will be reduced should A.B. 2757 pass. Under the future $15 per hour rate, the workers could work 60 hours per week totaling $900 per week.
Under this bill, growers will reduce the work week to 40 hours at $15 per hour or $600 per week, a 33 percent reduction in pay for the workers.
It seems like the state has forgotten a few things here in claiming to help the workers. One, business will either leave or drastically change and this will mean fewer employment opportunities. Under AB 2757, they will also reduce their ability to earn another $300 per week.
We know this is bad for agriculture and it sure seems like it would be bad for the workers too. We sure hope someone in Sacramento realizes this before it’s too late and have been making contacts with our representatives. Should you see your elected representative anytime soon, please urge them to oppose AB 2757. It’s bad for agriculture and for farm workers.
Bruce Blodgett is the executive director of the San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation.