Disease-Infected Insect, that Kills Citrus Trees, Found in Alabama

A highly contagious disease is affecting our citrus trees in the South.

If the problem isn’t under control, it could completely wipe out our citrus industry.

The highly contagious disease called citrus greening is transported by a disease-infected insect, the Asian citrus psyllid, and is deadly to any tree it bites

“Its a bacterial plant pathogen that gets into the water conducting tissue of the citrus plant and it blocks it up so no water and nutrients can pass by,” said Dr. Kassie Conner, Director of the Plant Diagnostic lab at Auburn University.

“We knew this would happen one day, we were just trying to prolong it as long as we could. It’s happened in Mississippi, South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, we were the only ones to keep it out of our state until now,” said Gary Underwood, Owner of Underwood Pecan & Citrus Nursery.

The disease has wiped out the majority of citrus trees in Florida.

“In Florida, whose one of our biggest citrus producing states, it has already decreased their citrus production by 70%. So, it could wipe out the citrus industry completely,” said Dr. Conner.

“They said in 10 years there will be no more citrus left in Florida. Most likely it’s that devastating,” said Underwood.

Dr. Conner said homeowners are a big part of preventing this disease from spreading from tree to tree.

Right now, the state of Alabama is under a quarantine, which means it’s very important for homeowners to buy a citrus tree from an Alabama grower.

“If you buy it from a big box store and you see citrus for sale, you need to check on the tag that it’s actually grown in Alabama,” said Dr. Conner.

And you need to make sure you know how to take care of it, if you buy one.

“They are not maintenance free and people think they are and we tell them you need to spray them and they go home and never spray them and that’s where all the disease has started from,” said Dr. Conner.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System is setting up workshops and meetings to reach out to homeowners and educate them on the disease and how they can prevent bringing it into the state so it doesn’t spread from their trees to commercial orchards.

“It’s a very big deal. Our citrus growers would appreciate help from homeowners to keep them safe and keep them from getting the disease because it will completely wipe out their entire orchard,” said Dr. Conner.

If you see a mix of green and yellow on your citrus foliage, fruits that are green, misshapen and bitter, or the tree tips start dying back, you most likely have citrus greening and need to call the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries right away.

They encourage homeowners if they do suspect they have the disease to contact the Plant Protection Quarantine unit, so they can send someone out to look at the plant. The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries will collect a sample and take it to a diagnostic lab and test it for the disease. If it’s positive, they will have to come out, treat it for insects and then cut the tree down and take it to a landfill. A week later, they will treat the stump so it doesn’t regrow.

The disease, though, does not affect humans or animals.

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