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USDA offers support to citrus farmers battling ‘greening’

HLB is a bacterial disease that spreads internally throughout the plant. (Credit: Wikipedia)

HLB is a bacterial disease that spreads internally throughout the plant. (Credit: Wikipedia)

U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency State Executive Director Juan M. Ortiz-Serbiá announced Thursday that the agency has made available financial assistance to eligible Puerto Rico’s citrus growers for the removal of trees afflicted with “Huanglongbing” (HLB, also known as citrus greening) and for replanting groves with new healthy stock.

The support comes through USDA’s Tree Assistance Program, he said.

“We must ensure that Puerto Rico’s citrus industry can weather this storm while a more permanent solution to this problem is developed. The key to the citrus industry’s survival is getting new trees in the ground, and we’re doing everything we can to help with that,” said Ortiz.

HLB is a bacterial disease that spreads internally throughout the plant. The disease, which is transmitted from infected plants to healthy ones by the Asian citrus psyllid, causes fruit to ripen unevenly and become lopsided, visibly smaller and bitter-tasting. The bacteria do not pose a health threat to humans, livestock or pets, but the effect on the fruit crop is devastating.

“Because HLB damages and then kills citrus trees over time, USDA has expanded the Tree Assistance Program to allow Puerto Rico producers to remove and replace trees as they decline,” said Ortiz. “Previously, to receive program assistance, all citrus tree deaths had to occur in one year, but now, farmers can receive support as trees decline or die over a period of up to six years.”

Puerto Rico citrus growers will be eligible for up to 50 percent of the cost of the removal of diseased trees and site preparation, 65 percent of the cost of replanting and labor, and 65 percent of the cost of seedlings. The individual stands must have sustained a mortality loss in excess of 15 percent after adjustment for normal mortality.

Trees that are no longer commercially viable may be considered to have met mortality.

Growers are encouraged to contact their local USDA Farm Service Center for information on the types of records needed before applying, and to schedule an appointment. Supporting documents may include documentation of best management practices for HLB control, purchase receipts for eligible trees, planting and production records, and documentation of labor and equipment used to plant or remove eligible trees, the agency said.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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