Funding Announced to Fight Citrus Greening
The US Department of Agriculture on Monday approved an addition $13.6 million in funding to research citrus greening, a problem that has drastically reduced production at farms and ranches on the Gulf Coast and around the country. “Finding a cure for this destructive disease is vital to maintaining a strong economy and protecting jobs here in southwest Florida,” says US Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, who has fought for more research funding for years.
Farmers in the region, meanwhile, continue to combat the spread of the citrus disease. Steve John, citrus production manager for SMR Farms in Lakewood Ranch, says over the past five years, the spread of citrus greening has led to a 15-20 percent decline in fruit harvested per acre. “We’re struggling with tree health and box counts are down,” he says. “Not all of it is due to greening, but a lot of it is.” Citrus greening is spread by a tiny bug that injects a vector into the leaves of trees that causes a dramatic reduction in fruit production and can eventually kill the tree, John says.
Ranchers at HiHat Ranch east of Sarasota have also fought the citrus disease. Management there discussed problems in the summer as a pilot sprinkled Melathion over the citrus trees in an attempt to stop the spread.
Buchanan in 2014 led a bipartisan effort in Congress to secure $125 million to combat citrus greening as part of a five-year farm bill. The bill, signed into law by President Barack Obama, also authorized the disbursement of up to $125 million in discretionary spending over the same five-year period. But over the last two years, citrus greening spread to 32 counties in Florida and has now been reported in every county with citrus-growing operations. Buchanan’s office says experts predict a 26 percent decline in Florida orange crops for the 2016-2017 season.
Florida Citrus Mutual CEO Michael W. Sparks called the funding for research a “wise investment in one of Florida’s signature industries."
Photo by Wyatt Kostygan: Crop duster sprays fields at HiHat Ranch.