In Rep. Steve Southerland’s home state of Florida, farmers grow an enormous number of specialty crops. Among the most lucrative are citrus crops, currently under threat from “citrus greening disease.”

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The greening disease “represents an immediate threat to the entire $12.2 billion U.S. citrus industry in Florida, California, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas,” said Southerland. “The disease has the ability to kill citrus trees, and their fruit, within a few, short years. It literally places the future of U.S. citrus production of at risk. Citrus ranks nearly first in the nation in crop value. … Timely research on citrus greening and its vector, the Asian citrus psyllid, is absolutely essential to ensure the future citrus production in this country.

“Congress authored the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) under the farm bill in an effort to meet the critical needs of the specialty crop industry by developing and disseminating science-based tools to address needs of specialty crops.”

Even so, complained Southerland, “domestic citrus growers have self-funded more than $39 million in research annually over the past four years.”

Citrus greening is a “devastating disease,” agreed Rebecca Bech, deputy administrator for Plant Protection and Quarantine at the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. While the SCRI is administered under the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) “at APHIS, we have a Citrus Health Response Program. Part of that funding is set aside for research and we’ve worked closely with the (U.S.) growers and industry ... to address the concerns about citrus greening.”

Southerland:No country that has faced (citrus greening) has solved it. It literally wipes out the citrus industry and this is an enormous problem. Having met farmers that are funding (research) – and not getting the assistance I think some of the funds were (intended) to provide – is bothersome.”