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California growers warn: Citrus disease could kill industry if U.S. Congress slows research

Staff Writer |
A disease called citrus greening has devastated Florida’s citrus industry. Agriculture officials are hoping they can stop it before California suffers the same fate.

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Congress is poised to continue spending $25 million a year into finding a way to stop it. But the money will not come without second thoughts. Lawmakers are debating a variety of aspects of the farm bill, and some have quietly suggested that the citrus research money could be shifted into a general agricultural research category.

And while representatives of the citrus industry admit current progress on finding a cure (or lessening the impact of the disease) has been disappointing, they say the alternative is the death of the nation’s citrus industry.

As recently as 2012, Florida produced the vast majority of the nation’s oranges. California’s citrus production surpassed Florida’s after citrus greening infected about 80 percent of citrus trees in the Sunshine State, making the fruit bitter and unusable and permanently damaging the trees. Texas’s production has also been affected.

A report by citrus greening researchers earlier this year said a breakthrough cure was unlikely. Instead, master plans are necessary to curb the spread. But while there is promising research, nothing concrete has been found after $125 million in federal funds dedicated to finding a cure.

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