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Saving Florida's Citrus Industry Through Collaboration and Innovation

The Florida citrus industry is under siege and the invader is a tiny bug called the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP).  The ACP spreads a disease known as Huanglongbing (HLB) or citrus greening, and together they are destroying groves that have been cultivated by families for generations.

But all is not lost.  USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is working closely with State and Federal partners such as the Agricultural Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture, as well as State departments of agriculture and the citrus industry in Florida, California, Arizona and Texas to develop short-term solutions to help protect groves while researchers focus on longer-term projects that may one day put an end to this devastating pest and disease combo.

What is Your Citrus Tree Hiding?

Do you have a citrus tree in your backyard? From afar it may look fine, but when was the last time you took a close look? Your tree could be hiding all kinds of clues about its health. Here are a few resources to hone your citrus sleuth skills!

Checking your citrus tree regularly is extremely important to prevent the spread of citrus disease. Four serious citrus diseases found in the United States include: Huanglongbing (also known as citrus greening or HLB for short), citrus canker, citrus black spot and sweet orange scab. These diseases are a threat to the health of U.S. citrus, and finding them early is critical. That’s why we need your help!

USDA Federal Marketing Orders Help Reduce Food Waste

USDA’s Food Waste Challenge is underway and federal marketing orders for fruits and vegetables continue to help out in the food donation effort. Under these industry self-help programs that are overseen by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), groups decide minimum quality standards that benefit the entire industry. When products do not meet a marketing order’s quality standards but are still edible, they can be diverted to secondary markets to minimize food waste while increasing producer returns.

When this occurs, businesses have a couple of options: send the food to the processed market, donate the food to charities and food banks, or process the food into livestock feed. Nearly half of the active fruit and vegetable marketing orders also include comparable import regulations to ensure foreign products meet the same quality standards as those produced domestically.

Five Cs of Arizona

The Census of Agriculture is the most complete account of U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. Every Thursday USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service will highlight new Census data and the power of the information to shape the future of American agriculture.

For decades, school children in Arizona have been taught the five Cs: Copper, Cattle, Cotton, Citrus, and Climate. These five C’s have been the driving force behind Arizona’s economy, and gave economic security to past generations and hope to many generations. However, all that is changing. Arizona, like the rest of the country, is undergoing an economic transformation. Arizona is moving from a mining and agriculturally oriented economy, to a high-technology and service-based economy. This is changing the patterns of where Arizonans live and work.

Three of Arizona’s Cs – cattle, cotton, and citrus – were counted in the most recent Census of Agriculture and the results showed that they are still economically significant. The value of cattle, cotton and citrus production that was sold in 2012 totaled nearly $940 million, excluding the more than $760 million in milk sales. Total market value of all agricultural products sold topped $3.7 billion.

From Scientist to Farmer, Today's Agriculture Producers Come from All Walks of Life

In the past, full-time farmers were the norm and children of farmers followed in their parent’s footsteps. That’s not the case today. Now, data from the Census of Agriculture show more than half of Florida’s principal farm operators report primary occupations other than farming.

Richard McGinley is a good example of today’s Florida farmer. He spent his early years living the city life until his dad moved the family to Ocala, located in central Florida, to begin farming. But McGinley had other interests that took him far from farming. He established a career in the nuclear industry and even started his own consulting business.

Successful Meeting Helps Take Produce Marketing Efforts to Next Level

The fruit and vegetable industry is an integral part of our country. Besides helping increase access to healthy foods, the industry generates $40 billion in sales and empowers communities by creating jobs and stimulating economies. While it’s great to notice the strength of the produce industry, it is important to remember that it is the result of careful research and planning. I had the chance to watch the industry rekindle this energy as I visited with leaders from each of our marketing order boards and committees during a management conference last week.

There were some great takeaways from the meeting. We heard an update about the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) from Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Deputy Commissioner Michael Taylor. He ensured us that FDA is looking to collaborate with partners like USDA to help the industry comply with the FSMA regulations when they become final. We also heard from our Commodity Procurement Program Director Dave Tuckwiller, who encouraged everyone to take advantage of new opportunities to sell food to USDA. Thanks to new National School Lunch standards, my agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) purchased 20 percent more fruits and veggies in 2013 than in the previous year.

Citrus Trees: Move It AND Lose It

Soon, citrus producing states across America, including Arizona, California, Florida, Louisiana and Texas, will be full of fresh citrus. But gone are the days of sharing the fruit trees or seeds with friends and family out of state or even in the next county. It’s no longer as simple as packing it up and shipping it, or buying a citrus tree at a road side stand to bring home.

You’ve heard the saying “move it or lose it.” When it comes to citrus trees, it’s “Move It AND Lose It.” When you move citrus trees, you risk losing America’s citrus altogether – think breakfast with no fresh oranges, grapefruit or even juice.

USDA Scientist Eager to Lead New Initiative to Combat a Devastating Citrus Disease

When I learned I was chosen to lead USDA’s new emergency, multi-agency response framework to combat one of the most serious citrus diseases in the world, I felt both humbled and honored.  I relish the opportunity as a scientist to partner with other federal agencies, states, and industry to combat a disease—huanglongbing (HLB or citrus greening)—that has devastated so many citrus groves in Florida and threatens other citrus-producing states.

When Secretary Vilsack established this new framework—USDA’s HLB Multi-Agency Coordination (MAC) Group—he directed us to fund the most promising, practical research to give growers tools to use against HLB as quickly as possible.  USDA provided $1 million in funding, and the 2014 Federal budget includes an additional $20 million for HLB research, which the Group will collectively determine how best to spend.

Celebrate the Chinese New Year While Being Citrus Smart

Out with the snake, in with horse! January 31 marks the start of the Chinese New Year. Many people will be enjoying the rich cultural traditions of this holiday such as food, parades and exchanging gifts. One traditional Chinese New Year gift is citrus fruit, such as mandarin oranges and tangerines. This fruit is said to bring luck, wealth and prosperity.

However, without proper precautions citrus can also bring something else that may not be so favorable—the Asian citrus psyllid. This pest carries citrus greening disease, also known as Huanglongbing (HLB), a disease threatening the commercial citrus industry and homegrown citrus trees alike. Although it is not harmful to humans or animals, the disease is fatal for citrus trees and has no known cure.

Residential Citrus Growers: Help Us Stop the Spread of Citrus Disease

If you are like millions of other Americans, there’s a chance you have a citrus tree or two growing in your yard. As a residential citrus grower, it is very important to check your trees regularly for signs of disease.

A diseased tree in your yard may seem like no big deal; however, it can easily spread disease to other nearby trees and make its way to large commercial groves where significant damage can be done. If citrus disease were to spread out of control, it has the potential to destroy the entire U.S. citrus industry, causing the loss of billions of dollars and millions of jobs.