Opinion: Finding Research Funding Is Critical For Citrus Survival

It’s very apparent as I travel throughout the Florida citrus industry that people now fully understand the threat citrus greening poses to our future. That wasn’t always the case, even as recently as a year ago. But as more and more cases popped up in citrus-producing counties, the industry has come to the realization that we must act aggressively to ultimately defeat this insidious disease.

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Greening affects yields and eventually kills trees. It doesn’t get any more serious than that. In the short term, citrus growers must proactively address greening at the grove level. This involves thorough scouting efforts and vector management. In the long term, however, we must find a scientific solution.

We’ve got a good start. More than 100 research projects are currently underway. The ultimate solution may be developing a tree resistant to greening, it may be a biological control through a natural enemy of the vector, or it may be new spraying techniques. Our brightest and best scientists believe the research will eventually pay dividends.

Not surprisingly, the key to the effort is funding. As part of our 2008–2009 Research Funding Strategic Plan, Florida Citrus Mutual (FCM) will seek to secure more than $34.7 million during the next year to fund greening and canker research.

Leave No Stone Unturned

The plan is an aggressive effort to uncover every source of funding — whether it’s federal, state, or private donations, or grower dollars through the Florida Department of Citrus (FDOC) box tax. FCM is committed to finding and securing research funding from all available sources.

To set the research-funding strategy in motion, FCM sent a letter to the Florida Citrus Commission (FCC) in February asking it to develop a 2008–2009 budget and program option for the FDOC, which redirects 9¢ to fund disease research while freezing the current tax rates across all varieties. With a 200-million-box citrus crop, we estimate the move will generate $18 million for disease research during this critical period.

Furthermore, FCM asked that all funds committed by the FCC/FDOC for invasive pest and disease research be channeled through the Florida Citrus Research Production Advisory Council (FCPRAC). We understand this is a dramatic step that may affect the citrus market in the short term; however, there is a consensus in the industry that the seriousness of greening calls for a creative approach.

With significant amounts of money flowing into greening research, it is important we as an industry ensure the funds are channeled to the best projects while holding researchers accountable. The industry took a major step in this direction recently when the FCC contracted with the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to help direct the industry’s research on greening and canker (see sidebar). NAS is a world-renowned organization that will bring instant credibility to the Florida citrus industry’s research efforts. Growers should find some comfort knowing NAS and FCPRAC will be overseeing the direction of the research and providing accountability.

Stay Informed

There are several ways growers can keep informed as this industry-wide effort progresses:

• Check www.flcitrusmutual.com (FCM’s Web site) for updates.

• The Citrus Research and Education Center publishes a greening/canker newsletter. Sign up by sending an e-mail to [email protected] with your name, e-mail address, company name, address, and telephone number.

• FCPRAC is launching a real-time Web site at www.fcprac.com that will allow growers to follow research and inquire about a project’s finances, trace back research to the original proposal, and determine what milestones have been met.

• The educational sessions at the 2008 Citrus Industry Annual Conference in Bonita Springs on June 11–13 are titled Greening: What Every Grower Must Know. Lead scientists from IFAS and USDA will update growers on the latest greening and canker research. Registration is available at www.flcitrusmutual.com.