In 2011, Harold Browning, Ph.D., former director of the University of Florida Citrus Research and Education Center, became chief operating officer for the Citrus Research Development and Foundation (CRDF).

The mission for the non-profit corporation, organized in May 2009 as a Direct Service Organization Foundation of UF, is to advance disease and production research and product development activities to insure the survival and competitiveness of Florida citrus growers through innovation. 

Grove & Vegetable caught up with Browning for a Q&A regarding new CRDF initiatives and funding for upcoming research projects.

Q:What is the number one priority of CRDF?

A:The highest priority is to identify and support research that will lead to the delivery of solutions to HLB (Huanglongbing/citrus greening) and other major diseases.

Since the detection of HLB in Florida in 2005, the industry has been single-minded in its desire to aggressively learn how to manage this threat, and CRDF was created to focus the research community and funding sources to that end.

Q:This year, the foundation partnered with InnoCentive, a Massachusetts-based  company that helps organizations solve problems by connecting them with diverse resources of innovation, to offer cash awards for proposals that yield mechanisms for interfering with the feeding of the Asian citrus psyllid or preventing transmission of Candidatus Liberibacer. What has been the response of the scientific community?

A:Nearly 300 “solvers” registered 59 unique genes that can go forward in side-by-side testing to determine which candidates have potential to affect the psyllid.

Public and private research entities have responded to this announcement of opportunity to be a part of a large research enterprise, and to nominate specific candidates for testing against Asian citrus psyllid.

Like other aspects of the complex HLB disease system, focusing on long-term solutions for the psyllid vector will require looking beyond conventional tools, and this contest has put CRDF in touch with researchers who have ideas for novel solutions.

Q: In 2011, CRDF received nearly $1.5 million in industry donations to support its efforts to find solutions to the myriad of issues facing the industry. How important is outside funding to the foundations efforts?

A:The commitment to aggressively pursue solutions to HLB and canker by the industry must be fueled by stable sources of funding so that all good leads can be followed. Since HLB’s arrival, citrus growers have provided the bulk of the funding via the research box tax, supplemented by redirection of funds from the Florida Department of citrus marketing and promotions budgets.

While this has allowed the research to advance as planned, it places an increasing burden on the growers. Thus, seeking help from allied partners who also benefit from application of research results is an important way to provide continuity and stability to the large research effort being managed for the industry by CRDF.

Donations from citrus organizations, solicitation of government grants and other fundraising efforts can buffer the growers’ investment and relieve some of the concern regarding having the funds necessary to meet the challenge.

The National academy of Sciences recommendations for research on HLB calls for short to intermediate and for long-term solutions to be pursued, resulting in an expectation that sustainable funding will be vital to discovery solutions, as well as their delivery to the industry.

Serving on the CRDF board of directors are: Walter (Tom) Jerkins, president; Ricke Kress, vice president; Hugh Thompson III, treasurer; Jerry Newlin, secretary; Robert (Bobby) Barben, Joe Davis Jr., Joseph Joyce, Ben McLean III, Mary Dureya, Shannon Shepp, Wayne Simmons, and Robert (Bob) Stambaugh; chief operating officer, Harold Browning, Ph.D.; program manager, Thomas Turpen, Ph.D.

For more information on the Citrus Research and Development Foundation or projects funded by CRDF, go to www.citrusrdf.org.