The best thing Kern County residents can do to help guard against an economically devastating pest infestation is also the least socially acceptable.
Regardless, local and state agricultural officials asked Tuesday that residents refuse any gift of citrus grown in a friend's or family member's backyard.
"Purchase your fruits and vegetables from a reputable" retailer, county Agricultural Commissioner Ruben Arroyo said at a news conference in a Bakersfield-area orange grove.
The concern is not that the fruit is bad but that transporting it could spread the Asian citrus psyllid, an insect that can carry a bacterial disease -- huanglongbing -- that is harmless to humans but has killed or forced the destruction of millions of citrus trees around the world.
On Friday it was announced that a psyllid uninfected with huanglongbing was detected on private residential land in Wasco, the first time the insect has ever been located in Kern. The insect has also been found in Tulare and Los Angeles counties. The only confirmed infected tree was in Hacienda Heights, near Whittier.
Tuesday's central messages: Cooperate with agricultural inspectors and keep an eye out for the psyllid.
The last is easier said than done, because the insect measures only about an eighth of an inch long. But it's a gigantic threat to California's $2 billion citrus industry.
"This quite literally could be a death sentence to California citrus," state Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, said at the news conference.
Tuesday's event previewed a public meeting scheduled for 5:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesday in Wasco to discuss plans to spray two different kinds of chemicals around the area where the insect was found. The meeting will take place at Wasco Veteran's Hall, 1202 Poplar Ave.
One of the chemicals expected to be sprayed in Wasco is called Tempo SC Ultra, or cyfluthrin, an insecticide that kills psyllids on contact. The other is Merit 2F, or CoreTect; both contain the insecticide imidacloprid, which when applied to soil is absorbed into nearby trees.
Residents of the area slated for chemical treatments are to be notified in writing at least 48 hours before spraying.
There was also discussion Tuesday of efforts by state and federal officials to introduce another foreign insect, a stingless wasp, that feeds on Asian citrus psyllids.
Federal sources have contributed some $45 million in recent years to help with the effort. California's citrus industry has pitched in another $60 million, and a bill now before Gov. Jerry Brown would add another $5 million in state money.
Joel Nelsen, president of the trade group California Citrus Mutual, said the wasp would not be released into Kern County but be limited to Southern California as a "firewall" against the disease's spread into the San Joaquin Valley.
The county agricultural commissioner has asked that anyone with information about a local psyllid sighting call his office at 868-6300. State ag officials can be reached at 800-491-1899.