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Louisiana citrus resumes some interstate sales

USDA has expanded the federal quarantine on the Asian citrus psyllid to include the entire states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, Louisiana Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain told Plaquemines Parish citrus growers gathered at the Saxon Becnel and Sons Citrus Farm in early February.

“It means that our Louisiana producers will once again be able to ship citrus nursery stock under limited permit to Alabama and Mississippi, with proper treatments and inspections,” Strain said. “I’m glad for the growers who had to endure hurricanes Gustav and Ike and then were not allowed to ship trees out of state during the busy fall season.”

The Asian citrus psyllid was found last summer at several retail nurseries, residential properties and a few groves in Orleans, Jefferson, Plaquemines, Lafourche, St. James, St. Tammany, Terrebonne and St. Charles parishes. As a precautionary measure, USDA halted all interstate movement of Louisiana grown citrus trees to neighboring states in October, even though the psyllid had been found in one county each in Mississippi and Alabama.

Prior to thr revised quarantine, only the parishes and counties where the psyllids were actually found were quarantined.

Strain said the citrus nursery industry, which is centered mainly in Plaquemines Parish, lost more than $3.5 million in wholesale sales from October to January.

“We are hopeful the nursery growers will be able to recoup their losses during the late-winter, early-spring season,” Strain said. “The citrus industry in Louisiana is exactly the type of agricultural enterprise that we need to preserve and nurture in any way we can.”

According to the 2007 LSU AgCenter Louisiana Agriculture Summary, 20 citrus nursery stock growers are based in Plaquemines Parish.

One hundred producers raise fruit on 500 acres and harvest more than 150,000 bushels of navel oranges, satsumas and other citrus. The gross farm value of the fruit is $4.1 million.

The Asian citrus psyllid can spread citrus greening disease, also known as huanglongbing (HLB).

HLB prevents citrus fruit from ripening and ultimately kills the tree. Both the Asian citrus psyllid and HLB are on the federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s list of quarantined pests and diseases, Strain said.

HLB may also be spread by grafting trees with diseased bud stock.

The disease has been present in Florida since 2005, and was found in Orleans and Washington parishes in Louisiana in 2008.

Ricky Becnel of Saxon Becnel and Sons said the measure is good news for the Louisiana citrus nursery industry. “The word could not have come at a better time,” Becnel said. “We have been filling orders ever since the ban was lifted and we’ll do our best to make up for lost business.”

Saxon Becnel and Sons farm has an inventory of more than 200,000 citrus trees, Becnel said.

In addition to Strain, Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser attended the press conference. “Plaquemines Parish citrus is back in business,” Nungesser said. “We’re grateful to Commissioner Strain and the LDAF horticulture and quarantine staff for doing everything in their power to protect our citrus industry.

More information on Asian citrus psyllid and HLB may be found at the LDAF website.

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