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Experts Trying To Stop Disease Threatening California Citrus Crop

YOLO COUNTY (CBS13) — California is known for its citrus crop, providing more than $7 billion to the state's economy, according to UC economists.

But a disease that has nearly wiped out citrus in Florida has popped up here, and experts are trying to stop it from pouring into other parts of the state.

It's called citrus greening disease and it kills trees. In the last 14 years in Florida, orange and grapefruit production are down more than 75%. Now the disease has been detected in Southern California.

The insect that spreads it is here in this area which means your backyard lemon tree could be infected.

"We are second-generation. My parents started the farm with the Davis farmers market," said Freeman Barsotti.

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Barsotti runs his family's organic farm, Capay Organic, in Yolo County. They grow a variety of field crops and several varieties of citrus including satsuma/mandarins. He knows growers down south who have been quarantined because of citrus greening disease.

"It's scary-it's a big deal!" he said.

Citrus greening disease has decimated crops in Florida. It's caused by a bacterium transmitted by an aphid-like insect, which infects the tree, killing it.

"Not only does it kill it, but in the process which takes several years, it makes the fruit taste terrible. So fruit will get a bitter metallic flavor," said Prof. Carolyn Slupsky with the UC Davis Department of Nutrition.

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Slupsky is one of the researchers trying to find a cure for the disease because it's already spreading rapidly in Southern California. So far, the California Department of Food and Agriculture has found the disease in 1,700 backyard trees there, not including groves. More could be infected because researchers say people don't know what to look for.

"The symptoms of the disease are very similar to micro-nutrient deficiencies in citrus," said Slupsky.

Slupsky says the insect that spreads the disease is already in Sacramento County."

We know that where the insect is, the disease follows," she said.

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That's why they are testing and asking farmers and growers to stay vigilant to prevent it from spreading any more.

"It's totally something to worry about and if we invest now in detection and prevention that could really save a lot of money down the road," said Barsotti.

To explain just how fast this can spread, the state says the number of trees infected spreads by 60 a week in Southern California.

You can see how this could put the squeeze on growers. If you want your plants tested, call the CA Dept. of Food and Ag.

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