USDA plans to spend $30 million to fight citrus greening, which could help Florida oranges



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ORLANDO, Florida — The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to spend $30 million fighting citrus greening, the disease that has decimated Florida's most famous fruit crop, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Monday.

The funding will be split between long-term research and shorter-term measures that detect, resist or eradicate the citrus greening disease.

"Citrus greening has been an issue for some time, and it's obviously a significant and serious threat to the citrus industry, particularly in the state of Florida," Vilsack said during a conference call with reporters.

More than $23 million will fund research on longer-lasting solutions at four universities: the University of Florida; the University of California, Davis; the University of California, Riverside; and Kansas State University.

The research will include developing disease-resistant citrus; creating a detection system that can be placed in groves; using heat as a treatment in infected trees; and creating an antimicrobial treatment.

Another $7 million will fund 15 specific projects. One project lowers pH levels in irrigation water and soil to strengthen root systems in citrus trees. Another project tests rootstock that has been shown to tolerate the disease, and three projects support ways of producing fruit in groves that already have citrus greening.

"We are at a critical point in the fight against greening," U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said in a statement. "Right now, scientists and researchers are working hard to find a cure and this money will give them the resources they need to be successful in preventing further damage to a nine billion dollar industry in Florida."

The disease has caused Florida orange production to drop by more than half in the past decade.

The citrus industry contributes $9 billion per year to the state's economy and supports about 76,000 jobs.

Most of Florida's oranges are used for juice, unlike California oranges, which are destined for the fresh fruit market.

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