Citrus growers in California and Arizona hope to get a helping hand from recently introduced federal legislation intended to aid, through research, the citrus industry’s battle against invasive pests and diseases.

The bill would divert a portion of federal tariff revenue derived from imported citrus products, including fresh fruit and frozen concentrate citrus juice products, to finance the Citrus Disease Research and Development Trust Fund.

California industry groups including the California Citrus Research Board (CCRB), California Citrus Mutual (CCM), the California Citrus Quality Council, and Sunkist Growers expressed appreciation for sponsor efforts and encouraged the rapid passage of the legislation by Congress.

“The citrus industry owes a debt of gratitude to the sponsors of the bill including U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas,” said Claire Smith of Sunkist. “We are grateful to the bill’s sponsors for their bipartisan efforts to protect the nation’s major citrus-producing states.”

The most recent, and most deadly, threat on the horizon comes from Huanglongbing (HLB), a devastating disease for which there is no known remedy. The disease is spread by an otherwise harmless vector – the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP).

HLB, which is not native to the U.S., was first discovered in Florida in 2005. Five short years later, it is already threatening to wipe out the Florida citrus industry. The disease, which is found in all 32 Florida commercial citrus producing counties, attacks the vascular system of trees and kills them.

While the psyllid is now present in California, Arizona and Texas, having come across the border from infected areas in Mexico, no HLB has yet been detected on trapped psyllids or in trees.

"Our $1.8 billion industry creates another $1.2 billion in economic activity and supports 10,000 employees with another 12,000 dependant on citrus production for their employment in transportation, exports and other ancillary activities,” said CCM President Joel Nelsen.

“This proposed trust fund can create the research necessary and provide solutions where none exist to sustain this vital economic engine in California,” Nelsen said. “We are very grateful to the senator (Feinstein) for being a willing partner in this effort."

The money provided by the passage of this legislation would be distributed to research projects seeking remedies to HLB and ACP. Citrus growers have already committed millions of dollars to research the disease and its vector.

“These additional funds are desperately needed to augment the millions of dollars currently being contributed by the citrus growers,” said Ted Batkin, CCRB president. “Citrus growers are fighting for their livelihoods and we are grateful for the help in protecting an essential U.S. industry.”