USDA announces citrus greening funding, citrus disease subcommittee appointments

By Agri-Pulse staff

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WASHINGTON, May 13, 2014- United States Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced more than $1.5 million in funding to expand bio-control efforts to fight Huanglongbing (HLB), also known as citrus greening. This action is the first designation of funds by the Huanglongbing Multi-agency Coordination Group (HLB MAC Group) since Vilsack established it in December.

"Citrus greening poses a significant threat to the citrus industry and the thousands of jobs that depend on it. It could also further drive up fruit and juice prices if we don't act," Vilsack said. "USDA is committed to fighting and beating this destructive disease."

The funds announced today have enabled USDA to sign cooperative agreements with Florida (Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumers Services), Texas (Texas Citrus Pest and Disease Management Corporation) and California (Citrus Research Board and California Department of Food and Agriculture) to coordinate the fight against citrus greening. These joint efforts will significantly increase the production of the parasitic wasp known to control populations of Asian citrus psyllid (ACP), the pest that spreads citrus greening in citrus trees.

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Florida, Texas and California have developed biocontrol expansion plans that factor in regional elements in order to quickly bolster biocontrol production and release. This will expand the ability to control the ACP on a larger scale, especially in urban areas where citrus trees grow in yards as well as organic orchards. USDA's efforts surrounding biocontrol date back to 2009.

Secretary Vilsack created the HLB MAC Group last December to foster greater coordination among federal and state agencies in responding to citrus greening. The Group includes representatives from USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Agricultural Research Service (ARS), and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), as well as state departments of agriculture and the citrus industry. The HLB MAC Group serves to coordinate and prioritize federal research with industry's efforts to complement and fill research gaps, reduce unnecessary duplication, speed progress, and more quickly provide practical tools for citrus growers to use.

Previous USDA research funding to fight HLB includes commitments of approximately $1.5 million in each of the past three fiscal years by ARS in addition to NIFA steadily awarding increased grants from $878,000 in fiscal year 2009 up to $10.4 million in fiscal year 2012. Since 2006, the USDA has cumulatively invested more than $300 million on research efforts and actions associated with citrus health and combating citrus greening.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also announced today the appointment of three individuals to serve on the Citrus Disease Subcommittee, a subcommittee of the National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics (NAREEE) Advisory Board's Specialty Crop Committee.

In 2011, the Secretary established the Citrus Disease Research and Development Advisory Committee as a permanent committee within the NAREEE Advisory Board to study the scope and effectiveness of research, extension, and economics programs affecting the citrus industry as it directly relates to citrus disease, particularly citrus greening. The Agricultural Act of 2014 formally codified the Citrus Disease Subcommittee, which is composed of nine members, operating under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Research, Education, and Economics (REE) Mission Area.

Each of the nine Citrus Disease Subcommittee members must be a producer of citrus from Florida (five representatives), California or Arizona (three representatives), or Texas (one representative). Each member serves a two- to three-year appointment. Terms for members overlap so that approximately one-third of the Subcommittee is replaced and/or reappointed each year.

The following members have been appointed to a three-year term to expire on September 30, 2016:

  • David F. Howard, vice president, Graves Brothers Company in Vero Beach, Florida
  • Matthew McLean, CEO and founder of Uncle Matt's Organics in Clermont, Florida
  • Justin D. Brown, vice president and general manager, D Bar J Orchards, Inc. in Orange Grove, California.

The Citrus Disease Subcommittee advises the Secretary of Agriculture on citrus research, extension, and development needs, engages in regular consultation and collaboration with USDA, and provides recommendations for research and extension activities related to citrus disease.

The new members of the Citrus Disease Subcommittee will start work at the subcommittee's first meeting, starting at noon on Monday, May 19 and Tuesday, May 20, 2014, at the NIFA Waterfront Center, 800 9th Street, SW, Washington, DC. Members will begin with a brief orientation session and an overview of current USDA research activities related to citrus greening. The members will then develop recommendations and vote on the priorities and agenda of the Emergency Citrus Disease Research and Extension program.

The meeting is open to the public, but requires registration. To attend, contact Shirley Morgan-Jordan or call 202- 720-3684. A public comment period will be available at the end of each meeting or interested individuals may provide written comment for the public record (must be postmarked by May 30, 2014).

For more information on the USDA MAC Group, click here.

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