Citrus crop under threat


Farmers in the Vega Baja have warned that the citrus crops in the area are under grave threat from the expansion of the South African mealybug. The problem has destroyed crops in Castellón and Valencia and farmers are very concerned about the risk to lemon, orange and mandarin crops here. The bug, known as a ‘cotonet’ (Delottococcus aberiae), arrived in the Valencian Community due to an importation of citrus from South Africa.
The pest deforms the fruits making them useless and preventing their sale and, in most cases, its difficult detection makes it too late to fix. The main danger of transmission is found in the habitual use of collection boxes, if used in infested production areas and not disinfected correctly, the mealybug is spread.
Farmers from the Vega Baja and Murcia regions have voiced their fears, with representatives from the ASAJA (the Young Farmers Association of Alicante) warning of the ‘unstoppable advance of the cotonet’, pointing out that often, boxes for the transportation of fruit come from the north of the Valencian Community (currently a problem area) without being cleaned or disinfected.
Currently, very early mandarins are beginning to be harvested here. Buyers coming to collect the fruit from the Vega Baja are coming from the north of the Valencian Community and if they bring infected boxes, the mealybug will spread to farms in the south of Alicante.
The ASAJA is asking the Ministry of Agriculture to ensure compliance with protocols established during the harvesting and transporting of citrus fruits by businesses that enter the province of Alicante to collect fruit.
The dreaded South African mealybug arrived in Spain in 2009 and, since then, has spread uncontrollably throughout the Valencian Community where it has caused damage in 80 municipalities. Growers here have criticized the importation of citrus fruits from countries where production protocols are not governed by the same strict phytosanitary and environmental regulations as Europe.
Last growing season, the Asian cochineal destroyed 5000 hectares of crop in the region. The South African mealybug is said to be even more deadly and harder to control. To combat the problem, the Valencian Government approved mass releases of two known predators of the mealybug – a type of mealybug eating ladybird and a parasitic wasp. Central government has authorized the exceptional use of methyl chlorpyrifos, a very effective insecticide, banned in the EU, which will be applied by technicians from the Ministry of Agriculture together with the disinfection of materials for agricultural use.