Farm Bill proposal concentrates on HLB funding

(Rigo Moran)

California Citrus Mutual praises congressional leaders for prioritizing funding to combat citrus disease Huanglongbing in 2024 Farm Bill

EXETER – California Citrus Mutual has commended Congressional leaders for their prioritization of funding to combat Huanglongbing in the 2024 Farm Bill, which was in hopes of stopping the virus that is currently plaguing the citrus industry.

The local citrus farming advocacy group, California Citrus Mutual (CCM), has commended Chairwoman Stabenow of the Senate Agriculture Committee and Chairman Glenn Thompson from the House Agriculture Committee for prioritizing the citrus industry’s fight against Huanglongbing (HLB) in each of their proposed frameworks for the 2024 Farm Bill.

“While this isn’t the finish line, it clearly signals that Congress supports maintaining citrus funding.  We thank the Chairs of the Committee and our California Congressional delegation for championing our needs,” CCM president and CEO Casey Creamer said via news release. “This is a significant step towards reaching a bipartisan Farm Bill compromise that will continue critical research to find a cure to Huanglongbing.”

The Farm Bill is a comprehensive, multiyear law that governs an array of agricultural and food programs. In the proposal for the 2024 Farm Bill, funding was prioritized to combat HLB, a disease that is incurable and fatal to citrus trees.

The announcement from CCM describes this as a major victory for the citrus industry, despite the significant challenges posed by budgetary conflicts in Washington, D.C., such as rising costs associated with the Farm Bill and other competing agricultural priorities. It also highlights the successful collaboration with Florida and Texas Citrus Mutuals, and the solid support from related industry groups.

In their proposals for the bill, the chair of each House Agriculture Committee agreed to continue funding the Emergency Citrus Disease Research and Extension Program, providing $25 million each year for five years under the Farm Bill, totaling $125 million. The $25 million in funding would go to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to fund research to find a cure for HLB. The funding is overseen by grower representatives from California, Texas and Florida to keep the industry strong.

In an interview with The Sun-Gazette, Creamer provided further insight on the impacts of the disease in Florida, which have altered the citrus industry. The disease has since spread to California.

Creamer noted 90% of fresh citrus is grown in California, and what’s more, 80% of it is from the Central Valley. If the bill is approved with the allocations for HLB, the funding would be the first step to finding a way to stop the disease from continuing to hurt the citrus industry and farmers both in and out of California.

“HLB or citrus greening disease is present in almost every single citrus growing area. It’s really been devastating to Florida…in California we’ve got an extensive program here within the state to try to manage (HBL) and remove (diseased) trees in residential areas and mitigation programs to try and keep it out of our commercial areas.” Creamer said.

Creamer continued to explain that it is important to start working on a cure now because of how many years it will take to implement a solution to HLB  once there is a remedy.

“These cures take a long time,” Creamer said. “You can imagine that any sort of breeding (new trees), or resistance breeding, that’s going to be developed is going to take a long time to get into the industry.”

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