USDA affirms need to fight citrus greening to Florida growersLAKELAND, Fla. — Florida citrus growers received additional support in the fight to save their industry from citrus greening from the top U.S. Department of Agriculture official leading the battle.

During a Feb. 20 briefing, Mary Palm, the leader of Plant Health Inspection Service’s HLB multiagency coordinating group, told growers how the USDA plans to use the $21 million the USDA received to find solutions to greening, also known as HLB and huanglongbing.

“We at the USDA take this issue very seriously,” she said. “We need immediate and urgent response, and it’s important for you and the citrus industry that we move quickly. I don’t need to tell you how important the citrus industry is to Florida and how grave the threat is to your industry. I’m here to do everything I can possibly do in the near term along with state and industry partnerships.”

A former USDA plant pathologist, Palm said the “strike force” group holds weekly conference calls and is already making progress,

“We’re all in a moment of truth here,” said Rep. Tom Rooney, R- Fla., whose central Florida district encompasses many citrus groves. “If something doesn’t happen and doesn’t happen soon, it will obviously be catastrophic for our industry if it hasn’t gotten there yet.”

Mike Sparks, citrus mutual’s executive vice president and chief executive officer, said the industry needs to replant six million trees as soon as possible.

“It was good for everyone to hear just how important this research funding is, not only for the dollar amount but for the sense of urgency,” he said. “That was displayed on almost every question from the growers and I’m encouraged because the congressmen and the USDA-APHIS heard it. They can go back to DC and review their notes and files and look forward to funding something that can help us as quickly as next year because we can’t wait five or even three years.”

Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., said the fight against greening was initially a bipartisan issue pushed only by Florida but one that quickly gained national support after greening was discovered in other citrus growing states.