USDA Targets Citrus Greening with Tree Removal, Replacement Funds

Florida organic citrus growers plagued by an epidemic of Citrus Greening disease, also known as Huanglongbing (HLB), received a boost from the federal government last week with an expansion of the agency’s Tree Assistance Program.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced new funding to share the costs of removing diseased trees and replanting with healthy stock. The funding is currently available only in Florida, where the bacterial disease has spread to an estimated 99 percent of the state’s citrus groves. The tree-replacement funds will be available to all Florida farmers, including organic growers, who farm about 3,000 acres in the sunshine state.

The tree replacement aid comes on the heels of $31.5 million in USDA funding allocated this year for research and extension service projects combating HLB, which is inflicting serious damage in Florida and has established toeholds as far afield as Texas and California. Some of those federal funds are supporting research of interest to organic growers.

“Organic growers qualify (for the tree replacement funds) just the same as conventional growers,” said Ben McLean, vice-president of Uncle Matt’s Organics, the largest organic citrus grower in Florida. “And we’ve found the USDA has been really encouraging regarding research funding for organic disease control methods.”

McLean said the USDA has requested a full proposal for an organic-friendly HLB-focused research project proposed by himself and a team of University of Florida researchers. And the agency is also pursuing research on non-genetically-modified HLB-resistant citrus varieties, and on microbial biological controls, McLean said.

“These are two examples of research being done that, while not specifically titled ‘organic’, would benefit organic as well as conventional citrus growers,” McLean said. “Honestly, I’ve been really pleased with the USDA’s efforts.”

While Florida accounts for 63 percent of the U.S. citrus harvest, California produces 69 percent of the country’s organic oranges, 99 percent of its organic lemons, and 67 percent of its organic tangerines, according to the USDA (2011 data). 

Growers in the Western states are increasingly concerned that the lack of government-approved, certified-organic HLB treatments could soon result in mandatory chemical treatment of organic citrus groves. Broad-spectrum conventional pesticides, applied as frequently as 12 times per year, are currently the main method used to combat the Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP), the fast-breeding pest that spreads HLB as it feeds on the leaves and stems of citrus trees.

Through the Tree Assistance Program, Florida citrus growers will be eligible for up to 50 percent of the cost of tree removal and site preparation; 65 percent of the cost of replanting and labor; and 65 percent of the cost of seedlings.

For more information, read the Tree Assistance Program fact sheet at or contact your local county FSA office at