Citrus Lockdown Squeezes San Diego Economy as Greener Pastures Turn Yellow

Citrus Lockdown Squeezes San Diego Economy as Greener Pastures Turn YellowSource: T.R. Gottwald and S.M. Garnsey, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Ben J. Costas
Published on November 30, 2023

In an urgent move to save the juicy cores of San Diego's economy, California officials slapped a citrus lockdown on Valley Center after the grim reaper of fruit, Huanglongbing (HLB), was spotted in the area. The notorious citrus greening disease has reared its ugly head, and it's got local orange growers seeing red. Details of the fruitscapade were dug up on Thursday by the County News Center, reporting on the quarantine that pegged a chokehold on a $138 million agricultural stronghold.

It seems five unassuming orange trees that tested positive for HLB have caused quite the stir—and, now, a slice of paradise in Valley Center is under citrus siege. The quarantine area has been mapped out—the borders stretching from the I-76 and Pala in the north to the I-15 and Deer Springs Road in the south, and from Camino del Rey in the west to Valley Center in the east, seemingly holding $19.4 million worth of citrus commodities hostage. "Unfortunately, Huanglongbing is fatal to citrus," lamented San Diego Agricultural Commissioner Ha Dang, "so our goal is to prevent this disease from spreading any farther," as per a statement obtained by the County News Center.

HLB doesn't hurt humans or our furry friends but spells doom for citrus trees, killing them and turning their fruits into puckered disasters: misshapen, bitter, and utterly unsellable. The culprit behind the spreading of this nasty bug are tiny-winged fiends known as Asian citrus psyllids, which, if infected by the HLB-causing bacterium, can wreak havoc on our beloved citrus. Local authorities, including the County Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures, and the big guns at the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), are swarming the area to offer treatments for the imperiled trees. They're also flying notices to all growers, plant nurseries, and other businesses that might be bugged by the quarantine. If more sickly citrus is detected within the quarantine zone, CDFA will buzz the affected properties about treatment and necessary uprooting of the infected trees.

With over 120 growers and nurseries caught in this citrus conundrum, the quarantine has clear rules: no moving citrus plants, no shuffling plant parts, and do not cart citrus fruit outside these boundaries unless you're an agricultural business complying with the strict cleansing and packing directives. If Valley Center residents decide they're over-nurturing their citrus trees, the county suggests reaching out to a tree removal service. Need to spot a sick tree in your backyard? Look out for asymmetrical leaf yellowing and small, wonky fruit that taste more bitter than a jilted lover's scorn.

If you're nestled within the quarantine zone, here's your to-do list, as the County News Center spells it out: Don't play musical chairs with your citrus, comply with the tree inspectors, and give CDFA's Pest Hotline a ring at (800) 491-1899 if you notice your citrus trees looking less than lively.