The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced today that it seeks to establish a Citrus Disease Research and Development Advisory Committee comprised of representatives from both the citrus producer and scientific communities. The Advisory Committee would report to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and provide leadership to citrus disease scientists. Citrus greening is one of the most devastating diseases affecting any commercial agricultural crop, according to the National Academy of Sciences. More than 250,000 jobs representing key sectors of the U.S. economy are at risk, including harvesting, packaging, processing, transportation, marketing, retail sales, and nursery production.

Citrus greening threatens to destroy over 1 million commercial citrus acres that have an annual production value of approximately $3 billion across the nation. Yearly losses could reach $10 billion if citrus greening is left unchecked.

Citrus greening disease obstructs the flow of nutrients in citrus trees and leads many fruits to remain green, grow lopsided and taste bitter. The disease is present in Florida and portions of South Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia, and Puerto Rico. The Asian Citrus Psyllid, the insect that spreads citrus greening, has been detected in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and areas of Southern California and Arizona. This broad distribution increases the concern that, should citrus greening be introduced into new states, the insect would rapidly spread the disease.

USDA will invest $2 million this year into research on the disease at the U.S. Horticultural Research Laboratory, a USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) laboratory located in Ft. Pierce, Fla. USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has committed to focusing $9 million in a three-year, competitive grants program targeting citrus greening.