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Invasive pest prompts new citrus facility 

To prevent the bug that ruined Florida's citrus industry from taking hold in South San Luis Obispo County, Bee Sweet Citrus plans to build a facility that could wash and wax harvested citrus before it's transported farther south.

The 14,900-square-foot facility was part of the South County Advisory Council's consent agenda on Jan. 28, and the council recommended that the Board of Supervisors approve the project.

Bee Sweet would use 125 to 250 gallons of water per day to remove leaves and material from citrus that could host the Asian citrus psyllid, a bug that could carry citrus greening disease. The disease destroyed 24 percent of Florida's citrus production at a loss of $344 million, according to 4th District Supervisor Lynn Compton's staff.

The entire county is proactively on quarantine with no end in sight, and the California Citrus Research Board has spent 75 percent of its research funding on finding a solution, according to Bee Sweet Vice President of Farming Keith Watkins.

"Until we have a solution for the disease, the quarantine will be there," Watkins said.

Watkins said workers will also wax and sort the fruit, and Bee Sweet Citrus is open to contract their services to other growers in the county.

The washline would be the first in the county—an alternative to workers hand-removing leaves, which could allow some psyllids to slip through the cracks, and insecticides that kill the bug but are toxic and costly, said San Luis Obispo County Assistant Agricultural Commissioner Marc Lea.

Citrus greening disease has not been found in San Luis Obispo County, but growers are on edge as Asian citrus psyllids have been found in residential neighborhoods, indicating that the bug has been brought up by travelers who bring back produce from growers with the bug, Lea said.

Lea said the pests can "hitchhike" on cars and clothing to get to the county.

Over the last several decades, increased traveling has caused the influx of more foreign species, according to Lea and David Headrick, a Cal Poly horticulture and crops science professor. In the 1980s, six new insect species were discovered in SLO County every year, compared to nine new species every year now, Headrick said. Only a fraction of those nine species every year are pests that cause damage to crops, Headrick said. Δ

The original version of this story referred to Bee Sweet Citrus Vice President of Farming Keith Watkins using the wrong title. We regret the error.

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