USDA commits $22 million to fight citrus greening

The disease has had a devastating effect on Florida's citrus growers, driving projected orange production in the state down by 27 percent this year.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has committed $22 million to fighting Huanglongbing, better known as citrus greening.

The bacterial disease, which had cost the US citrus industry more than $7.8 billion by harvest time last year, is spread by an insect called the Asian citrus psyllid, causing fruit to grow out green, stunted and bitter-tasting. Growers facing outbreaks risk losing entire orchards to the disease, and to date, the USDA has spent $380 million to combat it.

Since citrus greening first appeared in Florida in 2005, it has been detected in sixteen states and is now contributing to a decline in this year’s citrus harvest. Florida orange production has been particularly hard hit, and the state’s 2015/16 orange crop is expected to fall 27 percent from last year to 3.2 million tonnes.

US Secretary of State Tom Vilsack said the government was coming closer to ending the threat of citrus greening. “The funding announced today will help us continue to preserve thousands of jobs for citrus producers and workers, along with significant revenue from citrus sales,” he added in a statement.

While permanent crop producers can enjoy higher margins than other farming businesses, such as major grain producers, diseases like citrus greening can eat into years of profits and operating capital as orchards may have to be replanted, presenting growers with an considerable financial risk.