More wasps are headed to Texas—good news for the state's citrus industry.

Bio-control efforts in Texas, California and Florida are getting a boost from USDA. United States Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently released just over $1.5 million in funding to expand efforts to fight Huanglongbing (HLB), or Citrus Greening, a serious disease that nearly devastated the citrus industry in Florida in recent years and has spread to Texas and California over the last three years.

Vilsack established the Huanglongbing Multi-agency Coordination Group (HLB MAC Group) last December and provided funding to deal with the issue. Funds released late last month represent the first intended specifically to further bio-control efforts designed to keep the disease from spreading.

"Citrus greening poses a significant threat to the citrus industry and the thousands of jobs that depend on it. It could also further drive up fruit and juice prices if we don’t act," said Vilsack. "USDA is committed to fighting and beating this destructive disease."

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HLB is considered the most destructive disease of citrus in the world. It is endemic in large parts of Asia and Africa, but was discovered in Florida in 2005 and only in recent years spread to Texas and eventually as far west as California. The disease is caused by a bacterium which is transmitted by insects called psyllids, specifically, the Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP). There is no cure for greening, and the lengthy latent period after infection makes eradication almost impossible.

Thanks to research in Texas and later, in cooperation with researchers in California, one of the most effective control measures has been the introduction of biological predators of the psyllids, a tiny wasp found in Pakistan, the Tamarixia radiata.

The funds released by the HLB MAC Group have enabled USDA to sign cooperative agreements with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumers Services, Texas Citrus Pest and Disease Management Corporation, and the California Citrus Research Board and California Department of Food and Agriculture to coordinate the fight against spread of the disease.

 

 

Increase predator production

Federal officials say these joint efforts will significantly increase production of the predator wasps to help control populations of ACP in all three states. Officials say while commercial citrus groves have been instrumental in treating trees to prevent the spread of the psyllids, ACP propagation in backyard citrus varieties, including orange jasmine ornamentals, a popular citrus variety most often found in residential neighborhoods in sub-tropical regions add to the threat.

Florida, Texas and California have developed biocontrol expansion plans that factor in regional elements to bolster bio-control production and release. This will expand the ability to control the ACP on a larger scale, especially in urban areas where citrus trees grow in those residential areas.

Secretary Vilsack created the HLB MAC Group last December to foster greater coordination among federal and state agencies in responding to citrus greening. The Group includes representatives from USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Agricultural Research Service (ARS), and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), as well as State departments of agriculture and the citrus industry.

The HLB MAC Group serves to coordinate and prioritize federal research with industry's efforts to complement and fill research gaps, reduce unnecessary duplication, speed progress, and provide practical tools for citrus growers to use.

Previous USDA research funding to fight HLB includes commitments of just under $1.5 million in each of the past three fiscal years by ARS, in addition to NIFA steadily awarding increased grants from $878,000 in FY 2009 up to $10.4 million in FY 2012.

 

 

Significant investment

Since 2006, the USDA has cumulatively invested more than $300 million on research efforts and actions associated with citrus health and combating citrus greening. 

In 2011, the Secretary established the Citrus Disease Research and Development Advisory Committee as a permanent committee within the NAREEE Advisory Board to study the scope and effectiveness of research, Extension, and economics programs affecting the citrus industry as it directly relates to citrus disease.

The Agricultural Act of 2014 formally codified the Citrus Disease Subcommittee, which is composed of nine members and operates under the auspices of USDA.

For more information on the USDA MAC Group, please visit.