WASHINGTON – The Department of Agriculture said Thursday it will distribute $24 million worth of grants to researchers to find ways to combat the citrus greening disease.
Though the disease -- whose formal name is huanlongbing -- has been identified in only one tree in Los Angeles, state agriculture officials have set up quarantine zones across swaths of Central and Southern California to isolate and eradicate the Asian citrus psyllid, an insect that spreads the disease.
Fruit from a diseased tree is bitter, misshaped and inedible, and the rind develops a green tint. Detecting the disease is difficult because symptoms like yellowing leaves don't develop for a year or more after infection.
Citrus greening, which has no cure, is considered the world's most devastating disease for orange and lemon trees but isn't harmful to humans. The disease has the potential to wipe out California's $1.8 billion citrus industry -- second only Florida in production -- which supplies most of the oranges and lemons found in American grocery stores, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
Citrus greening has devastated crops in Asia and parts of the Middle East and South and Central America. In the U.S., the disease and the insect that spreads it are found in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina and Texas. The psyllid was first found in California in 2008, according to the state agriculture agency.
The $24 million was included in last year's farm bill. Federal agencies and laboratories, colleges and universities, private research organizations, state agriculture stations and cooperative extension services, and individual scientists are eligible to apply for the grants.
Also Thursday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced an additional $6.5 million for previously approved citrus greening research projects.
"USDA is committed to the fight against citrus greening, including making major research investments to counter this destructive disease," Vilsack said in a statement. "The citrus industry and the thousands of jobs it supports are depending on groundbreaking research to neutralize this threat."
Contact Raju Chebium at email@example.com; Twitter: @rchebium