Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has created a unified emergency response plan for citrus greening to streamline efforts among state and federal groups.

In the announcement Dec. 12, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he was responding to the citrus industry’s request for more urgency and better coordination.

“We want to make sure everything we do is coordinated as well as possible,” he said.

To kick off the initiative, he said the USDA would provide $1 million in additional research funding for greening, also known as huanglongbing or HLB. Through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, part of the 2008 farm bill, the USDA already has awarded $9 million in grants for HLB research.

The new plan involves USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Agricultural Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture, along with state departments of agriculture, universities and the citrus industry.

Dubbed the Multi-Agency Coordination Group for HLB, it will serve as the single contact for all state and federal entities that work on citrus issues. It also will help coordinate federal research with industry efforts, reducing duplication and speeding efforts, according to a news release.

In addition, the group is designed to further collaboration on policy decisions, establishing priorities, allocating resources, and collecting and disseminating information.

Part of that effort will involve improving the USDA’s greening website,, Vilsack said.

In a news release, Mike Sparks, president and chief executive officer of Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual, praised the USDA’s efforts. But he also urged Vilsack and Congress to approve a proposal in the Senate’s version of the Farm Bill that would divert up to $30 million annually from tariffs on imported orange juice to citrus research.

“Multi-agency coordination at the federal level is a key part to defeating the immense challenges posed by this disease,” Sparks said in the release. “At the same time, we also need the secretary and Congress to support the creation of a National Citrus Research Trust Fund as part of the Farm Bill ... .”

Vilsack said he hopes that Congress can at least draft a farm bill before House members leave for Christmas break. That way, they can begin working on the legislation when they return and have it to the president to sign in early 2014.