Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has made new financial assistance available to eligible Florida citrus growers for the removal of trees afflicted with Huanglongbing (HLB, also known as citrus greening) and for replanting groves with new healthy stock. The support comes through USDA's Tree Assistance Program.
'USDA is investing in research and a variety of strategies to combat citrus greening over the long-term. In the meantime though, this support will help ensure growers are not wiped out in the short-term,' Vilsack said. 'We must ensure that Florida's citrus industry can weather this storm while a more permanent solution to this problem is developed. The key to the citrus industry's survival is getting new trees in the ground, and we're doing everything we can to help with that.'
Through the Tree Assistance Program, USDA is providing Florida - the area of highest immediate need - with additional support to combat HLB. Other citrus-growing states could be eligible for similar support in the future.
Florida's citrus industry contributes $9 billion per year to the state's economy and supports about 76,000 jobs. In the 2012-2013 growing season the U.S. citrus crop was worth $3.15 billion, down 15 percent from the previous year. The value of the Florida citrus crop was $1.53 billion in the 2012-2013 growing season. Florida accounted for 63 percent of all U.S. citrus production.
HLB is a bacterial disease that spreads internally throughout the plant. The disease, which is transmitted from infected plants to healthy ones by the Asian citrus psyllid, causes fruit to ripen unevenly and become lopsided, visibly smaller and bitter-tasting. The bacteria do not pose a health threat to humans, livestock or pets, but the effect on the fruit crop is devastating.
Because HLB damages and then kills citrus trees over time, USDA has expanded the Tree Assistance Program to allow Florida producers to remove and replace trees as they decline. Previously, to receive program assistance, all citrus tree deaths had to occur in one year. Now, farmers can receive support as trees decline/die over a period of up to six years.
Florida citrus growers will be eligible for up to 50 percent of the cost of the removal of diseased trees and site preparation, 65 percent of the cost of replanting and labor, and 65 percent of the cost of seedlings. Losses must have occurred on or after Oct. 1, 2011, and individual stands must have sustained a mortality loss of 15 percent after adjustment for normal mortality. Trees that are no longer commercially viable may be considered to have met mortality. Growers are encouraged to contact their local USDA Service Center for information on the types of records needed before applying, and to schedule an appointment. Supporting documents may include purchase receipts for eligible trees, planting and production records, and documentation of labor and equipment used to plant or remove eligible trees.
No person or legal entity, except joint ventures or general partnerships, may receive more than $125,000 in assistance. Individuals or entities with average gross income exceeding $900,000 are ineligible for payment. Applications approved after Sept. 30, 2014, are subject to a payment reduction of 7.3 percent as required by the Budget Control Act passed by Congress in 2011. Other restrictions may apply.
Earlier this year, USDA announced $25 million in funding for research and cooperative extension service projects to combat HLB. The funding comes from the 2014 Farm Bill. USDA allocated another $6.5 million, for a total of $31.5 million, to several other projects through the Huanglongbing Multi-Agency Coordination Group (HLB MAC). Participating HLB MAC Group organizations include USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Agricultural Research Service, and National Institute of Food and Agriculture, as well as state departments of agriculture and industry groups. The HLB MAC Group helps to coordinate and prioritize federal research with industry's efforts to complement and fill research gaps, reduce unnecessary duplication, speed progress, and more quickly provide practical tools for citrus growers to use.
The HLB MAC continues to coordinate federal research with the industry's efforts. USDA signed cooperative agreements representing nearly $6 million during fiscal year 2014 for projects including field testing of antimicrobials, demonstration groves, increased production of promising biological control agents and training dogs to detect HLB. Additionally, over 50 projects were submitted for up to $8 million through the HLB MAC stakeholder suggestion portal, and USDA will begin announcing recipients this fall. These HLB MAC-funded projects will provide practical tools and solutions to citrus growers, especially those planting new trees through USDA's Tree Assistance Program.
The Tree Assistance Program, administered by the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA), was made possible through the 2014 Farm Bill, which builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for the taxpayer. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve quality of life in rural America. For more information, visit www.usda.gov/farmbill.