USDA escalates war against citrus greening

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Dec. 12, 2013 -- The USDA is allocating $1 million to support research aimed at combating citrus greening, a bacterial disease that has devastated millions of acres of citrus groves, mainly in Florida.

The funds will be used to jumpstart another initiative, the creation of a “unified emergency response framework'' to coordinate efforts by the citrus industry and the different federal and state agencies involved in fighting the disease, technically known as Huanglongbing, or HLB.

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“USDA is listening to the citrus industry's request for more urgency and greater coordination on the response to HLB,'' U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. Later, during a teleconference, Vilsack said the USDA had already committed almost $250 million to fight greening, which has resulted in thousands of lost jobs just in Florida.

The secretary urged Congress to quickly pass a new farm bill that will continue to support this type of research and protect a crop worth $3 billion a year. Vilsack's call was seconded by Jack Payne, senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources at the University of Florida, who was also on the teleconference.

Citrus greening, or yellow dragon disease, is spread by two species of psyllid insects and is believed to have originated in China in the early 1900s. It takes its name from the green, misshapen and bitter-tasting fruit produced by infected trees. While posing no threat to humans, the disease has harmed trees in Asia, Africa, the Arabian peninsula and Brazil.

In the U.S., the entire states of Florida and Georgia are under quarantine from HLB, and parts of California, Louisiana, South Carolina and Texas are under partial quarantine, according to USDA.

The new framework will coordinate research efforts of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Animal Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture with state agriculture departments and the citrus industry.

In the teleconference, Vilsack expressed optimism that Congress will produce a five-year farm bill early in the new year to replace current legislation enacted in 2008. Just after he finished speaking, the Republican-led House of Representatives, in a voice vote, passed a measure extending existing law until Jan. 31. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Debbie Stabenow (D.-Mich.), the head of the Senate Agriculture Committee, have said they oppose an extension.

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