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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA / A news summary

Insect Is Causing Agricultural Crisis

November 08, 2000

VENTURA COUNTY — A voracious disease-carrying insect, the glassy-winged sharpshooter, has gone from mere annoyance to major disaster, throwing the Ventura County Agricultural Commission into chaos, costing growers millions of dollars and pitting farmer against farmer.

"Just when I think things cannot get any worse, they get worse," said Earl McPhail, Ventura County agricultural commissioner. "I'm spending 80% of my staff time on this program. I can't afford to do that, but I don't see any light at the end of the tunnel."

McPhail told the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that he had gone through about $93,000 of the $267,000 grant the state gave the county to help battle the bug. He says he will ask the state for 14 more inspectors and three minivans to transport them around the county for a cost of about $344,000.

The needle-nosed sharpshooter carries a bacteria that causes Pierce's disease, which clogs plants' water-conducting tissues, causing them to wither and die. Grape vines are especially susceptible to the disease.

Local inspectors must examine every leaf of every plant--except cut flowers--for sharpshooter eggs before they leave the county. In some cases, that means looking through 100,000 leaves. Even trees destined for export are flipped on their sides so inspectors can pore over them.

After being examined by the growers and inspectors, the plants must be sprayed with an expensive pesticide called Tame and left to sit for 12 hours. Once a plant gets to its destination, it must be reexamined--leaf by leaf--and if one egg is found the entire shipment often gets sent back.

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