Citing a lack of attention paid to organic growers, the U.S. organic industry is launching a campaign to generate funding for organic-focused citrus greening disease research.
The Organic Center, a part of the Brattleboro, Vt.-based Organic Trade Association, wants to generate $310,000 to find solutions to citrus greening, also known as HLB and huanglongbing, that organic growers can use.
A $45,000 grant from the UNFI Foundation, a part of Providence, R.I.-based natural and organic food distributor United Natural Foods Inc., started the drive.
The UNFI Foundation noted most of the greening research has focused on conventional strategies that have experienced short-term limited success and stated proposed solutions aren’t allowed nor options for organic growers, according to a news release.
The UNFI grant supports a three-year research project led by The Organic Center in collaboration with University of Florida entomologist Michael Rogers and Ben McLean, vice president and director of research of Clermont, Fla.-based Uncle Matt’s Organic Inc.
Of Florida’s 500,000 acres of citrus, less than 3,000 acres are certified organic, said Benny McLean, partner and Ben McLean’s father.
The elder McLean researches greening in the family’s groves and spoke for his son who was in Mexico on a mission trip.
“We are a very small player in this game, but our family and company feels this (effort) is the only way we can get valid research documented that can help the organic growers in Texas, Arizona and California, because it’s all headed that way,” McLean said. “We are backed into a corner because the universities in these states aren’t funding organic research. There’s great research but we can’t use those products.”
The organic industry’s research seeks to find holistic organic solutions to control the disease that has spread to an estimated 99% of Florida’s groves, the younger McLean said in the release.
“Especially in this era of climate change, new pests and voracious diseases, organic agriculture deserves as much money for research as conventional agriculture,” Melody Meyer, UNFI’s director and an OTA board member, said in the release. “We must invest in non-toxic ecological solutions for now and for future generations.”
Americans’ appetite for organic fresh citrus and juice is large and growing, according to the release.
Recent statistics compiled by the OTA and the fresh fruit industry show organic fresh fruit sales in 2013 increased 24% in 2013 with organic citrus juice sales rising 26 percent, according to the release.
Greening could stall that demand increase and citrus is ranked as one of the most popular organic fruits, according to the association.