YUMA, Ariz. – It is common to hear of farmers using insecticides to thwart off harmful bugs, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture has come up with another solution — wasps. A bug called the Asian Citrus Psyllid was discovered in San Luis back in 2009. Since then, its population has slowly grown, raising concern over a disease it’s known to carry. That’s why the USDA is now releasing another insect to eradicate it.
The University Of Arizona in Yuma has a screened in facility that is the first of its kind in the state. Citrus specialist Doctor Gene Wright says all trees inside of it are certified disease free.
“If the disease arrives in Arizona, the nursery men need a source of clean bud wood, so they can make trees that are clean from the disease,” he said.
The disease these screens protect the plants from — citrus greening, a bacteria known to be carried by the Asian Citrus Psyllid.
“We don’t have the disease yet here in Arizona, but we do have the insect. What we want to do is get rid of the insect so we don’t have a problem with the disease,” Dr. Wright explained.
The solution — a wasp smaller than a grain of sand, originally from Pakistan. The wasps cannot sting and are harmless to humans. It kills off the insect, eliminating the chance of a disease outbreak. Gregory Simmons with the USDA says they are meant to control the insect population within residential areas.
“We’ve been releasing in California for a couple years now, also in Texas and Florida. Internationally there are programs in Mexico and brazil,” Simmons said.
In 2013, the USDA began releasing them in Yuma County. Dr. Wright says the disease has devastated the citrus industry in other states.
“It’s in every citrus grove in Florida. It’s in almost every citrus grove in Texas. If the disease were to get in here, we could potentially lose the entire citrus industry in the state of Arizona.”
Dr. Wright added researchers are also studying ways to modify citrus trees to be resistant to the bacteria.