For some time, the City of Redlands has been spraying its citrus groves to prevent the spread of a disease known as Huanglongbing (HLB), or greening disease, which is being carried by a pest known as the Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP). Trees infected by HLB trees end up with deformed fruit that fails to ripen, stays green, and prematurely drops their fruit. This disease has ravaged citrus fruit in the state of Florida, destroying some 70 percent of its orange crop. Because of the effect of ACP on trees in Florida and concerns about California, some have called for a moratorium on planting new citrus trees here in Redlands. Although I am no citrus expert and am still closely studying the issue, I believe that I can safely say that a moratorium is not in the best interests of the City. Here are several reasons:
Heritage. The citrus industry is a 2 billion dollar industry statewide, and an integral part of the fabric of Redlands. To preserve that heritage, the Redlands Citrus Preservation Commission was established in 1996. Composed of seven volunteers with combined citrus experience measuring in the centuries, the Commission oversees daily farming operations as well as the harvesting and marketing activities for all of the City-owned citrus groves. According to the City website, there are some 2,500 acres of citrus in production in our area, and the City of Redlands owns 16 citrus groves throughout the city totaling 164 acres, which include Valencia Oranges, Navel Oranges, Ruby Star Grapefruit, and Rio Grapefruit.
Progress. At a recent City Council meeting, Citrus Commission Chair Peter Buoye listed accomplishments for 2017 including the addition of two new “Gateway” Groves, including one off of the California Street exit of the 10 Freeway East, and the success of the City’s new packing house, Villa Park Orchards Association. I have been able to spend some time with Peter Buoye, including attending the last Commission meeting. He and other members of the commission bring a wealth of experience that should be carefully considered as we chart a path forward.
Livelihood. There are many businesses, and therefore employees, that rely on the citrus industry to continue to survive and thrive. The idea that there would be a serious discussion about a “solution” that could grind this industry to a halt in Redlands at this point is truly dubious.
Perspective. While HLB is a serious issue, there are many reasons to be optimistic. Firstly, while there has been contamination of some trees in California (one estimate is approximately 600), that is to be compared with the existence of literally millions of trees in the state. There are no known successful attacks on commercial groves in California at this point. Furthermore, research goes forward that it is hoped will provide success in dealing with the disease. Recently, UC Riverside released a study where researchers believe they have surmised how bacteria spreads HLB, which will be an important step in the battle against the disease.
There have been diseases attacking citrus plants before, and there certainly will be again. Notwithstanding the current threat, there is no reason for Redlands to retreat away from its rich citrus heritage.