SACRAMENTO — A citrus group is hoping the USDA’s latest round of grants totaling $13.1 million for huanglongbing research will spur the state into finally chipping in money toward the crisis.
In one of the last acts of President Barack Obama’s administration, the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture announced four grants — including $5.1 million for the University of California-Riverside — aimed at tackling the deadly citrus tree disease.
The money is the latest in specialty crop funding under the 2014 Farm Bill and brings the total to more than $57 million issued through the Citrus Disease Research and Extension Program since 2014.
The latest funding comes as California Citrus Mutual is trying again to get money included in the state budget for HLB after failing the last two years.
“We’re always looking for ways to show the Legislature and (Gov. Jerry Brown’s) administration that investing in the citrus industry is something California should be doing,” said Alyssa Houtby, CCM’s director of public affairs.
Brown’s initial 2017-18 budget does include $6.15 million for a pest and disease prevention program and an emergency exotic pest response unit. Some currently seasonal employees would be switched to full-time to address the citrus issue, state Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross said earlier this month.
But that money isn’t dedicated solely to huanglongbing or the Asian citrus psyllid, which can carry the disease, Houtby said.
“The state of Florida has put $8 million from their general fund toward their ACP and HLB program,” she said.
Since 2009, the USDA has spent more than $400 million to address huanglongbing, also known as citrus greening, according to a news release. First detected in Florida in 2005, huanglongbing has caused a 75 percent decline in that state’s $9 billion citrus industry and has led to full or partial psyllid quarantines in 15 U.S. states and territories, including California.
The $5.1 million given to UC-Riverside will be used for bacteriacide research, Houtby said. Others receiving grants in the latest round are Clemson University in South Carolina (nearly $4.3 million), Iowa State University (nearly $2.5 million) and a USDA Agricultural Research Service facility in Georgia ($1.8 million).
California’s citrus industry has devoted $15 million toward HLB research and education and had received $11 million from the federal government before this grant, but two previous attempts to get funding included in the state budget failed.
While last year’s request for $5 million was lined out of the budget, industry officials haven’t yet determined how much to ask for this year, Houtby said. In all, 32 trees in Southern California have been found with the disease, but none in agricultural areas.
Houtby said industry leaders may try to appeal to Brown’s concerns about climate change.
“If we don’t have a citrus industry here, that would be a problem for air quality,” she said. “Those are the types of messages we want to share with legislators. Climate change is a priority for this governor, so we need to insert ourselves into that conversation.”