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Disease squeezes California citrus

California’s citrus crops are now being threatened by  Yellow Dragon disease just a few years after the bacteria began decimating Floridian fruit.

The costly bacteria (also known as huanglongbing, or HLB) is carried from tree to tree by a sap-sucking insect called the Asian citrus psyllid. Together, they are a villainous pair hell-bent on destroying entire groves of lemons and oranges.

In 2005, two sickly trees alerted Florida officials to HLB’s arrival in the sunshine state. It is now found in every one of Florida’s 30 citrus-producing counties, costing citrus growers and the state billions of dollars in revenue.

Steps can be taken to prevent HLB’s spread but there is no cure for the bacteria its self.

Citrus crops make up a smaller percentage of California’s economy than in now-blighted Florida. Our 2010 crop alone was worth $1.5 billion.

The bacteria can also affect scores of homeowners who have raised citrus trees in their backyards generations.

HLB in California was first spotted in a residential neighborhood of Hacienda Heights in Los Angeles County. The diseased tree is set to be destroyed, and a 93-square-mile radius around it will be under quarantine in an effort to suppress HLB’s spread. No fruit will be allowed to leave the area unless it has been washed and packaged commercially.

It could take years for officials to be certain HLB hasn’t spread and lift the quarantine currently in place.

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