Despite the concerns of South Coast beekeepers and organic farmers, state agricultural officials will begin applying pesticide on citrus trees in about 500 Goleta households beginning later this week or as early as next as part of an effort to stem the tide of a fruit fly, the Asian citrus psyllid, which has been ravaging citrus crops from Florida to Brazil. State officials, eager to protect California’s $1.8 billion citrus industry, initiated the action by hosting a multi-agency meet-and-greet session Monday night at the Goleta Valley Community Center with affected residents and members of the public. The acoustics were notably splashy as government officials engaged small clusters of interested parties in a noisy give-and-take. When one critic of the pesticide campaign tried to engage those assembled in a spirited chant, he was led off by an officer with the California Highway Patrol.
The citrus psyllid carries a bacteria that shuts down the root system of citrus trees, causing them and their fruit to starve, wither, and die. No cure exists, and one fly has been trapped in Goleta. Although the fruit flies were found in greater numbers in Santa Barbara — by Earl Warren Showgrounds and Elings Park — the treatment campaign will be limited to locales within a quarter mile of the commercial citrus operations in Goleta because of funding limitations. Typically, state ag officials use two chemicals — applying one to the leaves and another into the soil by the roots — but in deference to environmental concerns and budgetary shortfalls, they will only be attacking the roots. Beekeepers have expressed concern that the chemicals used are fatal to bees — and have been linked to sudden colony collapse — especially when citrus trees are blooming. County assistant ag commissioner Guy Tingos countered that the chemical is lethal to bees only if applied to the leaves, but not to the roots.
Because there’s no sign of the disease yet, residents of affected properties are being given an opportunity to opt out. However, if the disease is found, the application will be mandatory. Fairview Gardens, a well-known organic farm, will be affected, but it will be allowed to use various oils and soaps effective in limiting the spread of the pest instead.