California Citrus Farmers Fear Tree-Killing Disease

ORANGE COVE, Calif. – Tom Mulholland is girding for battle against a tiny enemy that could devastate the orange grove he has spent his life cultivating. His adversary: the Asian citrus psyllid, a fruit-fly-sized insect with red eyes and a long, leaf-penetrating beak.

The psyllid, which can carry an incurable disease fatal to citrus trees, was spotted in August in Los Angeles, closer than ever before to the ribbon of central California where the state’s $1.6 billion citrus-growing industry is concentrated.

The feared infestation has prompted Mulholland and other citrus-belt farmers to put screens around their young seedlings, vigorously inspect their mature trees and tax themselves to fund research to stop the psyllid.

“It’s like a war,” Mulholland said in his tidy office set amid some 400 acres of radiantly healthy Clementine and Satsuma trees on his farm some 200 miles north of Los Angeles in the San Joaquin Valley at the base of the foothills beneath Sequoia National Park. “We’re sitting here trying to stop this thing, and it wants to keep pushing in.”

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