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USDA awards $20 million in citrus greening research grants

Citrus greening has affected more than 75% of Florida citrus crops and threatens production all across the United States.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded $20.1 million in grants to university researchers for research and extension projects to help citrus producers fight Huanglongbing (HLB), commonly known as citrus greening disease.

According to a USDA press releaseHLB was initially detected in Florida in 2005 and has since affected more than 75% of Florida citrus crops and threatens production across the US.

It has also been detected in Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Texas and several residential trees in California, as well as in Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and 14 states in Mexico. A total of 15 US states or territories are under full or partial quarantine due to the detected presence of the Asian citrus psyllid, a vector for HLB.

US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said on Monday February 8​: “The research and extension projects funded today bring us one step closer to providing growers real tools to fight this disease, from early detection to creating long-term solutions for the industry, producers and workers.”

Trees infected with citrus greening, but not treated with heat, have obvious disease symptoms and reduced productivity. (Photo by Marco Pitino via USDA)

Research at the University of Florida and Washington State University will focus on growing the putative pathogenic bacterium in artificial culture, which will greatly facilitate research efforts to manage HLB. Another project at the University of Florida will develop morpholino-based bactericides to reduce pathogen transmission and eliminate infections in existing trees. Research at the University of California will use virulence proteins from the pathogen to detect its presence before symptoms appear and to develop strategies for creating citrus rootstocks that are immune to HLB.

Top image of orange tree leaves with symptoms of Huanglongbing, also known as citrus greening disease, by Tim Gottwald via USDA

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Wonderful Citrus plans to ship more Mexican lime, Texas grapefruit to Europe

As the Florida industry continues to decline due to serious pest/disease pressure Wonderful Citrus hopes to expand the presence of Texas in Europe.

Wonderful Citrus has regular shipments to Europe of three citrus varieties:

  • Mexican limes,
  • Texas deep red grapefruit. and
  • California minneola tangelos. 

“We are the largest grower of minneolas in California and we have been supplying the Dutch market for nearly 10 years,” said Scott Owens, VP sales and marketing.

Most minneolas are consumed in Holland rather than being re-exported.

“Both Mexican limes and Texas deep red grapefruit are relatively new to our citrus portfolio but we believe we can find success in Europe. In 2015 we began trial shipments of Mexican limes to understand the market requirements and prepare for future increases in our production base. We have been sending small volumes of our deep red Texas grapefruit to Europe for several years in order to expose customers to the merits of Texas grapefruit.” 

Texas indeed produces a sub-tropical grapefruit similar to Florida, not as pretty on the outside but with excellent internal characteristics. More than 30 years ago Texas had a good following in Europe but was replaced by Florida. As the Florida industry continues to decline due to serious pest/disease pressure, Wonderful Citrus hopes to expand the presence of Texas in Europe.