Most people don’t even realize citrus grows in Alabama. But there is a belt across the southern part of the state along the Gulf Coast where there is a small industry, mostly satsumas. Now, according to the Associated Press, HLB — citrus greening disease, the pestilence that has devastated the Florida citrus industry in the last decade — has shown up in Alabama for the first time.
Federal and state plant officials confirm that citrus greening was found in leaf and insect samples at a home on Dauphin Island, according to a news release Tuesday from the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries.
They’ve been checking regularly for the bacteria for years, since infections have also been found but contained in Texas and California as well.
Alabama authorities say a survey beginning July 26 will check whether the disease, also called huanglongbing, has spread past the one yard.
“If the disease is limited to only a few trees, steps will be taken to eradicate the disease,” the statement said.
There’s no cure. Infected trees are destroyed to keep it from spreading.
Fruit from infected trees is safe to eat, but unsightly lesions make it hard to sell. Infected trees eventually stop producing fruit. They usually die within five years.
Citrus greening has been in Asia and Africa for decades. It was detected in Brazil in 2004 and Florida in 2005.
In some affected areas, the average productive lifespan of citrus trees has been cut by at least two-thirds, from 50 years or more to 15 years or less, according to the department. HLB can wipe out an entire grove in two years.
In Florida, orange production fell from 242 million boxes in 2005 to 104.6 million boxes in 2014.
The disease-causing bacteria are spread by an insect called the Asian citrus psyllid. Although the insect was found in Baldwin County, AL, in 2008, the bacteria was not.
The disease has also been found across Georgia and Puerto Rico, and in parts of Louisiana, Texas, California and South Carolina, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Federal officials have begun to quarantine Mobile County, stopping any citrus plants from being moved out of the county. Alabama agricultural officials have indicated they’ll do the same thing.
That means the quarantine will affect only counties where the disease is present rather than the whole state, the statement said.