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Poinsettia Whitefly Not Likely to Hurt O.C., Growers Told

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Fear that the poinsettia whitefly will migrate from the infested Imperial Valley to Orange County has kept telephones ringing at the office of the Orange County Agricultural Commission.

John Ellis, a commission spokesman, said the fear is probably unfounded. The pest has been found in small numbers in Orange County for 40 years, but it does not thrive here because of the weather and crop mix.

“The Imperial Valley has consistent hot temperatures and hosts (such as cotton) that attract the whitefly,” Ellis noted.

Cucumbers are the only affected vegetables grown in Orange County, he said. That crop represented only $1.56 million of about $250 million in total revenue for local growers in 1990.

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Iceberg and leaf lettuce, cauliflower and broccoli are among the infested plants in the Imperial Valley, which Gov. Pete Wilson on Monday declared a disaster area because of poinsettia whitefly infestation.

Produce prices at some supermarkets are reflecting the perceived shortage. Iceberg lettuce prices had risen to about $1.29 at some stores on Tuesday.

But John Mejia, a spokesman for the Western Growers Assn. in Irvine, said price hikes do not reflect real shortages.

“There is a lot of unneeded panic,” he said. “There will be losses, but it’s too early to tell how big they will be.”

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