I was shocked and appalled to see that headline come across my newsfeed last week. I imagine most people probably thought it was not such a big deal. Quite frankly, there were probably a large number of people who thought it might be a good thing. After all, less pesticide use is always a good thing; right?
Well, no. In fact, in this case it could be absolutely devastating.
California’s agriculture industry is a huge economic driver — to the tune of $45 billion — and a major source of fruits, vegetables, and nuts for Americans. For example, California supplies more than 95 percent of walnuts, kiwis, plums, celery, garlic, cauliflower, spinach, and carrots for the country. While we normally associate citrus production with Florida, California also has a sizable crop with over 3,000 growers farming over 270,000 acres across the state. The state’s citrus industry is worth $3.3 billion.
Which brings us back to the pesticide application. The judge’s decision is so scary because he just indefinitely suspended important work by state officials to curtail invasive species, including the Asian citrus psyllid.
If you aren’t familiar with the Asian citrus psyllid, just ask any Florida orange grower. Florida, the world’s second largest producer of oranges, has been facing the reality of the psyllid and the bacteria it spreads. Citrus greening, its common name, infects the trees and results in shriveled, bitter fruit that is still half green. Once a tree is infected, there is no cure. The tree usually dies within a few years. Florida tried to halt the spread of the bacteria by initially cutting down hundreds of thousands of trees, but to no avail. As the bacteria spreads and ravages orange groves, the Florida production of oranges continues to drop. According to Florida Citrus, the production of oranges in the state dropped from 203.2 million boxes between 1995 to 1996, to just 68.5 million boxes from 2016 to 2017.
California’s Department of Food and Agriculture was trying to stop the Asian citrus psyllid from destroying the state’s citrus trees by spraying pesticide that kill it. However, a number of environmental activist groups sued the state, complaining that the authority to spray the pesticide was improper. The California judge agreed with the decision, shutting down the spraying because the CDFA had not followed all the regulatory requirements, particularly preparing “environmental impact” reports.
“This ruling is devastating for [citrus greening] and other pest/diseases we are trying to manage in the state,” said Elizabeth E Grafton-Cardwell, Ph.D., Director of Lindcove REC & Research Entomologist University of California Riverside. Dr. Grafton-Cardwell’s includes research and extension services for Integrated Pest Management (IPM) methods to manage arthropod pests of citrus in the San Joaquin Valley of California. “The pesticides used are common, have tolerances set that protect people and animals, and are only used in cases of extreme pest danger. They are not applied to flowering plants and so bees are protected. In most programs, treatments are applied on a voluntary basis and homeowners can individually opt out. The consequence of this ruling is diseases like [citrus greening] will spread much faster. We currently have no cure for [citrus greening], it kills citrus trees and it will devastate not only commercial citrus but residential citrus.”
According to Dr. Grafton-Cardwell, the goal for pesticide application is simply to buy time so scientists can find a cure for the disease. Once that happens, the pesticide application will not be required.
The CDFA is still considering whether it will appeal the ruling.
Unfortunately, activists were more concerned with filling out the proper paperwork than the farm families and an important California industry that will no doubt be ruined by citrus greening. It is a sad commentary on how these activist organizations act. It demonstrates that their goals are less about protecting the environment and more about making headlines that serve their own interests.
These pesticide applications were hurting no one, but stopping them will have ramifications felt across the country.
Amanda Zaluckyj blogs under the name The Farmer’s Daughter USA. Her goal is to promote farmers and tackle the misinformation swirling around the U.S. food industry.