BATON ROUGE, La. — A bacterial disease that has plagued Florida’s citrus groves has now been found throughout Plaquemines Parish, the heart of Louisiana’s $11.4 million citrus business, the LSU AgCenter said Tuesday.
Citrus canker “directly threatens the survival of Louisiana’s citrus nursery stock and fruit industry,” the AgCenter said in a news release.
Parts of Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. Charles and Lafourche parishes, and all of Orleans and St. Bernard parishes were already under quarantine for citrus canker, which also was found for the first time this year in two parts of St. John the Baptist Parish, said Raj Singh, an AgCenter plant scientist.
If the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry confirms the new infections, it will set new quarantine boundaries, he said.
Federal and state quarantine regulations prevent the movement of citrus plants, any plant parts or clippings out of quarantined zone, according to the AgCenter. Fruit must be washed with bleach or other germ-killers before it can be sent out of a quarantine area.
The disease blemishes fruit, making it unmarketable, Singh said. As it progresses, fruit falls prematurely, trees lose leaves and severely infected trees stop producing.
“Once there’s an infection, there is no cure,” Singh said.
Experts recommend removing any infected trees, double-bagged, for landfill burial. Tools and equipment should be disinfected afterward.
For that matter, federal restrictions require disinfecting tools, equipment and workers before they leave property where a citrus tree is present, according to LSU.
Plaquemines Parish grower Ben Becnel Jr. said his trees are still healthy and he’s been using a copper spray to avoid infection for the past four months or so, “since we heard of some within a mile or two of us.”
That can help prevent the disease because copper is a disinfectant, Singh said.
Becnel said he already has been washing fruit because of a fungal disease called sweet orange scab.
Louisiana citrus farmers sold $6.4 million worth of fruit and $5 million worth of trees in 2014, the most recent year for which the AgCenter has data.