USDA Steps Up The Fight To Save Florida's Oranges : The Salt The agency is launching a new coordinated research effort to stop citrus greening, a disease imported from Asia that turns fruit bitter and unmarketable. It first turned up in Florida eight years. Now, it threatens to destroy the nation's citrus industry.

USDA Steps Up The Fight To Save Florida's Oranges

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NPR's business news starts with saving citrus.


MONTAGNE: The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced yesterday that it's spearheading a multiagency effort to prevent a disease from destroying the nation's citrus industry. The disease is called citrus greening, and it has already caused devastation in Florida's orange production since it first showed up eight years ago.

NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Greening is carried by a tiny insect no bigger than a pinhead. It's a disease that came from Asia. Dr. Jack Payne, of the University of Florida, says since it was first discovered here in 2005, it's cost the industry $4 billion and 6,000 jobs. Payne says almost all of Florida's citrus groves are infected.

JACK PAYNE: We have so many growers now in a $9 billion industry just hanging on by their fingernails, literally, trying to get a cure for this terrible disease.

ALLEN: Citrus greening is caused by a bacterium that makes the food bitter and unmarketable and eventually, kills the tree. In Florida, because of the disease, USDA says the orange crop will be off 9 percent from last season - the lowest harvest in nearly 25 years.

Scientists are trying to develop disease-resistant trees. But so far, there hasn't been a breakthrough. To help the effort, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced yesterday several agencies within USDA are coming together to coordinate research and the fight to stop citrus greening.

SECRETARY TOM VILSACK: We felt that it was necessary for us to have a more coordinated effort with our state and local partners, and with the industry.

ALLEN: Vilsack said USDA is making $1 million available for research immediately. An additional $9 million in research funding is in the farm bill that's currently before Congress.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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