USDA awards $20 million to fight citrus greening

By Whitney Forman-Cook

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WASHINGTON, Feb. 8, 2015 - USDA announced Monday it will put $20.1 million toward research and extension projects that help producers fight citrus greening disease, which has affected more than 75 percent of Florida citrus groves.

“The research and extension projects funded today bring us one step closer to providing growers real tools to fight this disease, from early detection to creating long-term solutions for the industry, producers and workers,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a release.

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Detecting the disease is difficult because 30 percent of an infected tree's root mass is lost before any above ground symptoms surface. The disease has been devastating: Florida had 845,000 acres in citrus in 1998, a figure that fell to 515,000 acres by 2013. There is no known cure or resistance in citrus to the disease.

The funding will be granted through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI), authorized by the 2014 farm bill and administered by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Congress authorized a total of $125 million in citrus greening research over five years in the same legislation.

Since the SCRI program was started in 2014, it has granted $43.6 million in research dollars to combat citrus greening disease, or Huanglongbing (HLB). HLB was first detected in Florida in 2005, and has since spread across most of the state and to some areas in Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, Texas and California. Additionally, HLB has been found in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and 14 states in Mexico.

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According to USDA, 15 U.S. states or territories are under full or partial quarantine after detecting the Asian citrus psyllid, a vector for HLB. They are: Alabama, American Samoa, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Texas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The fiscal 2016 awardees are:

  • University of California, Riverside, Calif., $3,990,772

Objective: To use virulence proteins from the pathogen to detect its presence before symptoms appear and to develop strategies for creating citrus rootstocks that are immune to HLB.

  • University of Central Florida, Orlando, Fla., $1,975,000

Objective: To develop an industrially viable, multifunctional bactericidal technology for delivering foliar spray based products for HLB, and others citrus diseases.

  • University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., $2,800,000

Objective: To develop a novel, gene-based bacterial therapy strategy that targets the HLB pathogen and psyllid symbionts to reduce pathogen transmission and eliminate infections in existing trees.

  • University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., $3,999,508

Objective: To culture Ca. Liberibacterasiaticus (CLas) and find ways to control and improve detection of HLB.

  • National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, Md., $1,951,763

Objective: To understand how the psyllid vector transmits Ca. Liberibacterasiaticus (CLas) in an effort to develop new transmission blocking tools. 

  • New Mexico Consortium, Los Alamos, N.M., $3,320,000

Objective: To make the immune system of citrus strong enough to fight off Ca. Liberibacterasiaticus (CLas).

  • Washington State University, Pullman, Wash., $2,115,000

Objective: To culture Ca. Liberibacterasiaticus (CLas) in vitro using two novel, parallel, complementary and integrated strategies.

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