Mathis’ ag bill aims to combat pest infestations

An adult psyllid, known commonly by ACP, with a nymph on a citrus plant leaf; the insect that is responsible for citrus greening disease in citrus crops.(Perspective Pixels on AdobeStock)

Assemblyman Devon Mathis’ new recently passed AB 2745 bill increases civil penalties for pest infestations

SACRAMENTO – Assemblymember Devon Mathis, R-33rd District, has co-authored a new bill aimed at ramping up civil penalties for property owners who neglect pest infestations.

The bill, known as Assembly Bill (AB) 2745, received approval from the Assembly Committee on Agriculture on April 10 and is now headed to the Committee on Appropriations.

“Pests disrupt ecosystems and pose a grave threat to agricultural crops,” Mathis said following the vote. “As evidenced by today’s vote, it is time to give County Agricultural Commissioners the enforcement tools they need to spur action and defend farms, both small and large, from this threat.”

He added, “Gone are the days in which negligent property owners face no consequences for their inactions as our agricultural community suffers. A pest infestation can ruin an entire year’s yield, jeopardizing the existence of farms both in my district and across the State of California.”

Under existing law, a county agricultural commissioner can’t levy a penalty exceeding $2,500 for each pest infestation violation. Mathis’ bill would require the penalty to be $500 for each infested acre. The penalty then increases to $1,000 per acre if the problem is not corrected within 30 days of the date of the original violation.

The new bill also allows a violator to appeal the decision within 10 days of receiving notice of the penalty.

The funds collected from penalties are deposited into a county’s general fund. Aaron Rice, Mathis’ Capitol director, highlighted the financial constraints faced by certain counties, which hinders their ability to undertake pest abatement efforts effectively.

“One of the big issues at the moment is the current fining process just isn’t being done,” said Rice. “They have the power to do it, but cannot recoup the cost. The local communities clear the land of the invasive species that are damaging crops. They cannot afford the abatement treatments.”

However, Rice explained this legislation empowers commissioners with some “teeth” to enforce penalties against landowners who are neglecting invasive species on their properties, providing a strong incentive for compliance.

“The commissioners can now say to the farmers, ‘Unless you fix it, we now have the power to fine you’,” Rice said. “It’s almost like a preventative measure, because if the farmer says ‘I don’t want to get fined for this, I’ll fix it myself,’ they might not need to fine them. It just gives (commissioners) another way of encouraging farmers to not have invasive pests on their property.”

$3 BILLION

A fact sheet Mathis’ office released to publicize AB 2745 notes that, according to the Center for Invasive Species Research at U.C. Riverside, exotic pests cost California’s agricultural industry more than $3 billion annually. Last November, the university published a report on the economic impact the Oriental Fruit Fly could have on California crops.

According to the report, the insect is infesting food crops all over the state. There are currently seven active quarantines statewide, with Riverside and San Bernardino counties being hit the hardest. The flies feed on fruits and vegetables, rendering them unfit for human consumption.

Researchers say the estimated cost of the fly establishing in California ranges between $44 million and $176 million in crop losses, pesticide use and quarantine requirements.

In the preface to the 2022 Tulare County Crop and Livestock Report, Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner Tom Tucker underscored Tulare County’s agricultural performance in a September 2023 letter to the Tulare County Board of Supervisors.

In the letter, it was stated that the county’s total gross production value for 2022 was $8,612,450,000, which represented a $522,828,700 increase or 6.5% above 2021’s value of $8,089,621,300.

Tucker wrote that while milk continues to be the county’s leading agricultural commodity, with a gross value of $2,671,291,000, the total value of the county’s field crop production – $745,489,000 – increased 30% over 2021.

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