Today, Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX-28) announced the inclusion of $59 million in federal funds to help U.S. citrus growers, including those in the Rio Grande Valley, in the Omnibus Appropriations Bill. The funds, which Congressman Cuellar included in this year’s fiscal year 2017 Omnibus Appropriations Bill with the help of Congressman Filemon Vela and Congressman Vicente Gonzalez, will offer support to citrus farmers in a number of ways. He also thanked Chairman Aderholt and Ranking Member Bishop for their leadership of the committee and assistance on these issues.
“Our citrus growers contribute greatly to the economy of the Rio Grande Valley, and they deserve our assistance in the face of threats to their vitality,” Congressman Cuellar said. “The $59 million worth of funding I have helped secure for citrus growers would be a great help to our farmers. We are making good progress toward correcting the damage done by threats like the incurable citrus greening disease, which has caused drastic reductions in citrus production in recent years and has placed all Texas citrus-producing counties under quarantine.”
He continued, “I would like to thank Congressmen Valadao and Congressman Rooney, both representing states that have also suffered from citrus greening, for their help in securing this language. I would also like to thank fellow Rio Grande Valley Congressmen Gonzalez and Vela for working with me on this issue. Finally, I would especially like to recognize the work of Chairman Aderholt and Ranking Member Bishop, for their leadership and assistance.”
"The Rio Grande Valley has long been known for its Ruby Red grapefruits and thriving citrus industry,” said Congressman Vicente Gonzalez. “Recently, our growers in South Texas and across the country in Florida and California, have become vulnerable to invasive pests and plant diseases like the Mexican fruit fly and citrus greening. Working with Congressmen Henry Cuellar and Filemon Vela, we were able to secure funding to support crucial fruit fly eradication, citrus greening facilities and research programs that will give our growers the tools they need to fight off these devastating diseases."
Dale Murden of Texas Citrus Mutual, a nonprofit trade association representing Texas citrus growers, owns a citrus grove in the Rio Grande Valley and has personally seen the effects of citrus disease like citrus greening since it was first positively identified in the Valley in 2008.
Mr. Murden said, “Congressman Cuellar has long supported agriculture and the United States and Texas Citrus Industries. We cannot thank him enough for his support and his bi-partisan approach to problem solving.”
Fruit flies and why they matter
One of the ways in which Congressman Cuellar is looking out for the citrus industry is by including $47 million to improve and repair facilities that engage in fruit fly eradication research.
The U.S. citrus industry is worth $11 billion, but the pests have caused more than $1 billion worth of damage. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS, has previously developed and implemented successful eradication efforts. Currently, however, the facilities are inadequate. This is why it is all the more important to ensure that APHIS can continue its good work to protect this industry that is such a major part of the local economy.
APHIS’ eradication efforts work by releasing sterile male fruit flies to mate with females, a process which over time eliminates the next generation of invasive fruit flies.
Citrus Health Response Program and the Huanglongbing Multi-Agency Coordination Group
Congressman Cuellar’s language also includes an increase of $5 million for the Citrus Health Response Program (CHRP), which is administered under APHIS at USDA. CHRP is a key program whose express goal is to support the U.S. citrus industry, maintain access to export markets and protect citrus-growing states, including Texas, from a variety of citrus diseases and pests. This is accomplished by cooperation between federal and state agricultural regulators.
Congressman Cuellar has previously supported efforts to increase funding for the CHRP. Including funds the congressman supported in the 2014 farm bill, the last farm bill, which provides $25 million per year.
Separately, Congressman Cuellar helped secure $5.5 million for the Huanglongbing Multi-Agency Coordination Group (HLB-MAC). Huanglongbing is the official name for citrus greening disease, which is spread from the Asian Citrus Psyllid. Like CHRP, HLB-MAC falls under APHIS. HLB-MAC attacks the problem of citrus greening disease through a coordinated response from federal and state entities. Participating organizations include APHIS, the Agricultural Research Service, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, state departments of agriculture and industry groups.
Recognizing the urgency of tackling citrus greening disease
Congressman Cuellar also included language in the Agriculture appropriations bill to encourage APHIS to allocate sufficient resources to address the issue of citrus greening and directs HLB-MAC to give out resources in the best way possible to maximize the effect it can have on the disease.
Congressman Cuellar also included language encouraging the continuation of good work by other federal agencies with one another in the fight against citrus greening. The hope behind these working groups is to bring together relevant stakeholders, develop innovative solutions and help USDA choose good projects that will bring us closer to short-term and long-term solutions to the citrus greening problem, in addition to an eventual cure.
Congressman Cuellar included language commending the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) on its citrus greening research efforts and to continue its cooperation with HLB-MAC. The language encourages the agency to continue working to curb the spread of the disease and enhance immunity in citrus trees as well as to work with industry, universities, growers, and other partners to develop effective ways of controlling the disease. ARS is a member of HLB-MAC.
He also included language encouraging the use of CHRP funds to partner with state departments of agriculture and industry groups to address the disease in addition to encouraging APHIS to use the funds available in the Plant Pest and Disease Management and Disaster Preventions Programs account and in the funds for CHRP to keep the citrus industry viable.
Finally, Congressman Cuellar included language that prioritizes citrus greening research projects through the Emergency Citrus Disease Research and Extension Program, which was created under the 2014 farm bill, and encourages the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to work with the National Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Advisory Board’s citrus disease subcommittee and to collaborate with HLB-MAC.
APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) – arm of the United States Department of Agriculture responsible for protecting animal health, animal welfare, and plant health
CHRP (Citrus Health Response Program) – administered under APHIS, helps protect the U.S. citrus-growing industry and works on coordination between state and federal entities
HLB-MAC (Huanglongbing Multi-Agency Coordination Group) – administered under APHIS; goal is to confront Huanglongbing, or citrus greening disease, through research efforts and coordination between state and federal regulatory agencies
ARS (Agricultural Research Service) – member of HLB-MAC that has worked on citrus greening research efforts