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Vern Buchanan says citrus greening aid finally bearing fruit

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan

Congressman Vern Buchanan announced Monday federal money for citrus greening has been awarded to researchers working to find a cure for the devastating disease.

In the most recent round of funding, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded $13.6 million to citrus greening research projects.

The funding was made possible by a USDA program the Sarasota Republican fought to include in the 2014 farm bill, called the Citrus Disease Research and Extension Program.

“Finding a cure for this destructive disease is vital to maintaining a strong economy and protecting jobs here in southwest Florida,” Buchanan said.

In 2014, Buchanan led bipartisan efforts in Congress to secure an unprecedented $125 million to combat citrus greening as part of the five-year farm bill that President Obama later signed into law. The legislation also authorized the disbursement of up to $125 million in discretionary funding over five years to combat this disease.

“This research funding will help protect the livelihoods of the 62,000 hardworking Floridians in the citrus industry,” Buchanan said. “Our country’s top researchers are moving closer to finding a cure for this disease.”

Since arriving in Florida nearly a decade ago, citrus greening spread to all 32 citrus-growing counties across the state within just two years. The bacterial disease infects and later kills trees that produce green, misshapen and bitter fruit. There is no known cure.

Experts projected a 26 percent decline in Florida’s signature orange crop for the 2016-2017 season – the worst in over 50 years.

Citrus greening has caused more than $4 billion in economic damage while eliminating 8,000 jobs, according to a study done four years ago by the University of Florida. Florida Citrus Mutual, a citrus trade association, estimates that those numbers have doubled in the past four years.

Speaking previously on the funding secured in the farm bill, Michael Sparks, chief executive officer of Florida Citrus Mutual, called this critical funding “a wise investment in one of Florida’s signature industries.”

Also called “yellow dragon disease,” citrus greening has begun to march across the country, and has been found in California, Louisiana, South Carolina and Georgia.

Since 2009, USDA has invested more than $400 million to address citrus greening, including more than $57 million through the Citrus Disease Research and Extension Program.

The most recent round of citrus greening grant research awardees includes:

– Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina – $4.2 million to study citrus greening resistant plants.

– Regents of the University of California, Riverside, California – $5.1 million to develop a cure for citrus greening.

– Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa – $2.4 million to study toxins that attack citrus greening.

– USDA Agricultural Research Service, Athens, Georgia – $1.8 million to study chemotherapy for citrus greening.

Buchanan has fought citrus greening on multiple fronts during his time in Congress. He is the author of the Emergency Citrus Disease Response Act, bipartisan legislation that makes it less costly for Florida orange growers to replace trees damaged by citrus greening.

Specifically, Buchanan’s bill provides tax incentives for farmers who cannot afford to replace trees affected by citrus greening. Under current law, growers are allowed an immediate deduction for the cost of replanting diseased trees, but the farmer must bear the full cost.

The bill passed the House in 2016, but did not pass the Senate before Congress adjourned.

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