The federal government has delivered much-needed help for Florida's struggling citrus industry. The Agriculture Department announced last week that it will provide researchers with $25 million to find ways to halt citrus greening, an incurable disease that is devastating the state's citrus crop.
Florida's $9 billion citrus industry has suffered greatly from citrus greening. Orange growers, for example, are on track to record their smallest harvest in nearly 30 years. Grapefruit farmers also are faring poorly, with many pushed out of the business because of the high costs associated with trying to protect fragile crops. Citrus greening is spread by the Asian citrus psyllid, a gnat-sized insect that sucks on leaf sap and leaves behind a deadly bacteria. The bacteria starves trees of nutrients, which leads to sour fruit and, eventually, dead trees.
The Agriculture Department has pledged $25 million a year for the next five years to fund research to combat the disease. The money comes from the 2014 farm bill. The federal agency set aside another $6.5 million to pay for three projects conducted by a group formed to beat back the disease.
Among U.S. citrus producers, Florida growers have been hardest hit by citrus greening. But the threat is real in other states, including California and Texas. The federal government's move to protect an industry that could be devastated if the disease goes unchecked is a good use of taxpayer dollars. It funds research to find a cure, moves to save an estimated 75,000 citrus-related jobs in Florida alone and seeks to ensure the health of a key segment of the nation's food supply.