USDA awards $11 million to fight citrus diseaseThe U.S. Department of Agriculture is awarding the citrus industry $11 million to fight citrus disease.

The funding is scheduled to have the USDA immediately giving $2 million to researchers with the balance given through the agency’s competitive grant program, according to a July 11 Florida Citrus Mutual news release.

The funding mechanism establishes a stakeholder board of scientists and growers from leading citrus producing states appointed by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, which will supervise and review funding and research.

Citrus mutual cited Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., as a longtime citrus disease research proponent and said the senator has told the industry he remains committed to starting a permanent citrus research trust fund funded through a tariff on imported orange juice.

The Congressional Budget Office states the legislation could generate $118 million over five years to fund research to fight invasive citrus pests and diseases. The measure has strong support among Texas, California and Florida citrus leaders, according to the release.

“The Citrus Disease Research Trust Fund must be able to serve as a long-term source of funding as we continue to fight HLB (citrus greening) and other non-native diseases that haven’t reached U.S. soil yet,” Vic Story Jr., citrus mutual president and president of the Story Cos., Lake Wales, Fla., said in the release.

He said the very future of Florida’s $9 billion industry and the 76,000 jobs it supports remains in the balance.