Ag at Large – 1 of a kind

By Don Curlee

It’s time for your friends and neighbors to understand and express the one-of-a-kind character that is agriculture in California. And they need to appreciate it.

It’s almost to the point that we should require a loyalty oath from people who live in some of the unique production areas of the state. For pledging allegiance to the prominent crop surrounding them, they can receive a five-year supply of T-shirts – which also trumpet that crop.

For me, the point was made in a recent meeting where it was stated that the San Joaquin Valley’s citrus belt lies in one of only two places on the planet where sweet, edible citrus can be grown. The other is a small corner of Spain. Citrus fruit grown elsewhere is basically for juice, as Florida is, or used to be.

Whether we live in or near that citrus belt or not we should know about its uniqueness, share that with our kids and our friends and relatives in Des Moines, Kansas City, London or Hilo. It might require a little skill for our expressions not to sound like boasting, or not to be tiring, but we should let it be known – again and again.

Current circumstances for the dynamic citrus industry in our back yard add immediacy. You’ve heard repeatedly about the current threat to this unique corner of the agricultural world coming from a tiny pest that few people have seen called the Asian citrus psyllid. It carries a tree-killing disease called Huanglongbing, mercifully shortened in reports about it to HLB.

One of the strange things about HLB and the insect that carries it is that an infected psyllid can attach itself to a clean citrus tree and abide there for as long as four years before actually transmitting the disease to the tree. All the while, the tree’s appearance changes little, until it finally goes into a serious decline and needs hospice care.

The same person who reminded me and others of the unique geographic characteristics of California citrus production also informed his listeners that California has more back yard citrus trees than commercially grown trees. That means we have hundreds of thousands of back yards where the ACP can hide and maintain its nefarious threat to trees that produce fruit for sale.

In a gesture of unusual cooperation and generosity, a multitude of Southern California homeowners have granted authorized pest control personnel access to their back yard trees. They permit them to be sprayed with the pesticide that controls the pesky psyllid. This is resulting in a measure of control, but not eradication.

The thought that California’s unique production area for the ultimately tasty navel orange and those delicious Mandarins is endangered brings a shudder, or should. This unique climatic phenomenon is a national treasure.

Bay Area residents don’t have to be persuaded that the Golden Gate Bridge is a national treasure. Could its bright orange paint protecting it from rust, a danger as great as the psyllid is to orange trees, be a subtle recognition of its relationship of uniqueness to Central California’s citrus production area? The similarity ends with the recognition that the bridge is manmade.

In addition to the natural feeling of pride that can come with recognizing the uniqueness of the citrus production area, the continuing economic advantage it creates can be a source of practical pride. Those trucks arriving for loads of edible citrus are bringing money; as sure as the automatic tolls are being collected on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Pride is a healthy emotion that we shouldn’t deny ourselves. Focus on a bridge or a strip of soil in a unique climatic preserve. Worship if you need to.