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Updated: 10/09/2012 09:58:26AM

State gets $9 million
to study citrus disease

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ORLANDO (AP) — Florida is getting $9 million to study the citrus greening disease.

The $9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is going to the Citrus Research and Development Foundation in Lake Alfred.

The Lake Alfred research project is working to halt greening by stopping the ability of insects to spread the disease from infected trees to healthy ones.

Citrus greening is a bacterial disease that can weaken a tree’s productivity. By some estimates, it has cost Florida $3.6 billion in lost orange juice production and jobs.

The $9 million will come from the USDA’s Specialty Crop Research Initiative, a Farm Bill program designed to promote specialty crop research. 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 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.

“The effort to secure the grant was multi-state and showed that when faced with a crisis California, Texas and Florida, historically rival citrus producing states, can work together,” Michael W. Sparks, executive VP/CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual, said. “This disease threatens the entire domestic citrus industry.”

“This approach to psyllid management is a missing element of the current research portfolio, one that is well-suited for a national effort,” said Harold Browning, Chief Operating Officer of the CRDF. “Although identified earlier as a priority, it is only recent progress in research on psyllid biology that allows this approach to move forward at this time. The intermediate to long-term nature of this research is an excellent complement to the short-term research on suppressing the psyllids.”

The Florida citrus industry creates a $9 billion annual economic impact, employing nearly 76,000 people, and covering more than 500,000 acres.