Dog finds citrus killer in Sacramento

About 100 Asian citrus psyllids, a potential scourge to the Central Valley citrus industry, were sniffed out this week inside a Sacramento shipping facility by a state “sniffer” dog.

The parcel inspection dog named Tassie, working for the Sacramento County Department of Agriculture, found the insects in a package containing guavas and curry leaves, the California Department of Food and Agriculture says. The parcel originated in Texas and was not inspected locally prior to shipment.

“Inspection dogs are doing excellent work in pest detection and exclusion,” says CDFA Secretary A.G. Kawamura. “They’re a crucial piece of our safety net to block the arrival of invasive pests that continually threaten California’s farms, forests and ecology.”

In July, a sniffer dog working for the Fresno County Department of Agriculture detected curry leaves in a duffle bag and an inspection revealed Asian citrus psyllids.

Currently, six teams (one handler and dog per team) are operating out of Contra Costa (two teams), Fresno, Sacramento, San Diego, and San Bernardino counties. Four additional teams are to be trained in a 10 week course this fall and should be functioning in by early spring 2010. The new teams will operate out of Los Angeles, Santa Clara and San Diego counties.

Sniff dog funding for FY 2009/2010 is approximately $1.5 million with $1 million coming from the federal Farm Bill and the remainder from federal appropriations.

The Asian citrus psyllid is of “grave concern” because it can carry the disease huanglongbing (HLB), the CDFA says. All citrus and closely related species are susceptible hosts for both the insect and the disease. There is no cure once a tree becomes infected. The diseased tree will decline in health until it dies. HLB has not been detected in trapped psyllids or trees in California.

Florida first detected the pest in 1998 and the disease in 2005, and the two have now been detected in all 30 citrus producing counties in that state. The pest and the disease are also present in Louisiana, Georgia and South Carolina. The states of Texas, Mississippi and Alabama have detected the pest but not the disease.

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