The U.S. Department of Agriculture looks to better manage the fight against citrus greening across the country, creating what it calls a Multi-Agency Coordination Group for Huanglongbing, or HLB, which causes the bacterial disease. And it’s kicking in $1 million to get it going.

Citrus greening causes fruit to green, become misshapen and taste bitter. It has devastated millions of acres of citrus throughout the United States. Florida and Georgia are under quarantine for HLB, and portions of California, Louisiana, South Carolina and Texas are also under quarantine for it.

The new framework will bring together USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Agricultural Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture, along with state departments of agriculture and the citrus industry. It’ll be a single contact for all of the federal and state entities that work on citrus and better help guide policy decisions, establish priorities, allocate critical resources and disseminate information, said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack Dec. 12 as he announced the effort.

“To jumpstart this initiative and affirm our commitment to industry, USDA is also providing $1 million to be used in support of research projects that can bring practical and short-term solutions to the growers in their efforts to combat this disease,” Vilsack said. “Through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative of the Farm Bill, USDA has provided $9 million in research to blocking the ability of insects to spread HLB to healthy trees. We need Congress to quickly pass a new Farm, Food, and Jobs Bill that continues to support this kind of research to protect a crop worth more than $3 billion in the last harvest."

In a prepared statement, Mike Sparks, CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual, said, “Multi-agency coordination at the federal level is a key part to defeating the immense challenges posed by this disease. At the same time, we also need the secretary and Congress’ to support the creation  of a National Citrus Research Trust Fund as part of the farm bill, which would serve as a long-term dedicated source of citrus research funding. The trust fund is essential to the future of our $12 billion domestic citrus industry and its 112,000 jobs.”

“In Florida, and especially my district, citrus isn’t just a crop. It’s a way of life and a part of our culture – and it creates $9 billion in annual economic impact and 76,000 jobs in our state,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney (FL-17). “Unfortunately, citrus greening is threatening to wipe out our citrus industry. I’m glad that USDA is joining the state of Florida and our industry leaders to coordinate an aggressive, emergency response to combat this disease.”

Citrus greening has significantly reduced citrus acreage and crop yields in Florida. This year’s orange crop is projected to be the smallest in 24 years due primarily to greening.