The citrus industry got welcome news this week.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded a $9 million grant to help support citrus research to eradicate citrus greening, an insect-carried disease that threatens an industry and our way of life in the entire region.
The Florida citrus industry creates a $9 billion annual economic impact, employing nearly 76,000 people, and covering more than 500,000 acres. The $9 million grant is a bargain compared to the financial boost citrus historically delivers.
Stopping citrus greening or HLB, a bacterial disease that attacks trees, is crucial. Citrus greening is endemic to the state and has caused billions of dollars in losses over the past five years. “This is a tremendous opportunity to advance research into citrus greening so we can save our $9 billion industry,” Florida Citrus Mutual VP/CEO Michael W. Sparks said in a press release. “ ... the key to beating this insidious disease lies in the laboratory.”
The $9 million to finance that lab work will come from the USDA’s Specialty Crop Research Initiative, a Farm Bill program designed to promote specialty crop research, the press release said. The funding will support a five year project, submitted by the Citrus Research and Development Foundation, exploring the use of biological controls to neutralize the Asian Citrus Psyllid, the small bug that vectors HLB.
The $9 million SCRI grant augments $2 million in funding the USDA appropriated to the Agricultural Research Service facility in Ft. Pierce earlier this year to study citrus greening.
Combining research efforts and techniques appears to be a wise approach to a complex problem that, left unchecked, could cripple the citrus industry. We believe spending $11 million dollars to preserve 76,000 jobs and the resulting economic impact is a responsible decision.