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NIFA grants $13.6m to combat citrus greening

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture has announced four grants to combat citrus greening disease, which has led to a 75 percent decline in Florida's $9bn citrus industry since it was first detected there in 2005.

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture has announced four grants totaling more than $13.6 million to combat citrus greening disease, otherwise known as Huanglongbing (HLB).

Awards for grant applications submitted in fiscal year 2016 include nearly $4.3 million to Clemson University in South Carolina; just over $5.1 million to Regents of the University of California; nearly $2.5 million to Iowa State University; and more than $1.8 million to the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Athens, Georgia.

The research aims to counter the most devastating citrus disease worldwide, thought to be caused by the bacterium Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus. Discovered in July 2004 in Brazil, HLB has seriously affected citrus production in in Asia, Africa, India, the Arabian Peninsula and North America.

Since it was first detected in Florida in 2005, the disease has led to a 75 percent decline in the state’s $9 billion citrus industry, while 15 total US states or territories are under full or partial quarantine due to the presence of the Asian citrus psyllid, a sap-sucking bug that acts as a vector for HLB, according to NIFA.

“NIFA investments in research are critical measures to help the citrus industry survive and thrive, and to encourage growers to replant with confidence,” said NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy.

Among the research to be conducted under the grants, Clemson University researchers are using naturally HLB-resistant citrus trees to develop new resistant varieties using genome editing; and the Regents of the University of California project will design and identify HLB bactericides based on natural and nanotechnology approaches. Researchers at Iowa State University will investigate the use of sustainable, naturally occurring soil bacteria to control the Asian citrus psyllid; and the ARS project will identify and assess the effectiveness and economic viability of chemotherapy treatment options.

NIFA is a government body established under the US Department of Agriculture. Since 2009, the USDA has invested more than $400 million to address citrus greening, including more than $57 million through the Citrus Disease Research and Extension Program since 2014.