Fight against citrus disease gets big boost

Fight against citrus disease gets big boost

The Organic Center has raised $20,417 through its first crowdfunding drive to fund its research effort to find organic solutions to a devastating disease threatening the nation's citrus industry.

Thanks to donations ranging from $5 to as large as $5,000, The Organic Center has raised $20,417 through its first-ever crowdfunding drive—easily exceeding its goal of $15,000—as part of a major campaign to fund The Center's research effort to find organic solutions to a devastating disease threatening the nation's citrus industry.

"We're thrilled that so many individuals generously contributed and have joined with our corporate donors to expand the funding base for this important research," said The Organic Center's Director of Research Programs Dr. Jessica Shade. "This is just the beginning, however, and there's more work to be done to help both organic and non-organic growers fight this disease in safe, organic and holistic ways, and keep citrus safe and healthy for consumers."

The Organic Center, an independent non-profit educational and research organization operating under the auspices of the Organic Trade Association (OTA), launched a major multi-year study and fundraising campaign in early summer to find organic solutions to ward off the deadly bacterial disease of Huanglongbing (HLB), known as citrus greening, and help citrus growers fight the disease without resorting to dangerous chemicals or genetic engineering. The Center set a fundraising target of $310,000 to finance the three-year study, with a $35,000 grant from the UNFI Foundation laying the foundation for the drive. So far, a total of $78,167 has been raised. 

The first wave of research has focused on non-toxic materials, including weekly sprays of organically approved materials, which can be used to control the Asian citrus psyllid, the insect that spreads the disease. This research is set to be completed in early 2015.

The next step in the research process is to develop procedures that control the psyllid while maintaining healthy populations of beneficial insects such as predatory insects and pollinators. Maintaining healthy ecosystems of insects like lady beetles, spiders, and a small wasp called Tamarixia radiata is critical for the long-term control of the Asian citrus psyllid. Current conventional control methods rely heavily on toxic pesticides, which have been linked to the massive deaths of bees and other beneficial insects. 

Another aspect of The Organic Center's research agenda looks at naturally occurring resistant organic citrus trees. At least one and perhaps two citrus groves have been discovered in Florida that appear to be resistant to citrus greening. The Organic Center's research will examine these resistant trees, which could be used to develop resistant varieties through natural breeding techniques that do not rely on genetic modification.

The Organic Center plans to incorporate its findings into a farmer-focused document that lays out protocols for growers in different citrus-growing regions across the United States. The Organic Center will also conduct a cost-benefit analysis of its methods to ensure that they are feasible for farmers.

The hope is that this research will be useful to organic and conventional growers alike. New, holistic tools could benefit conventional growers who haven't had much success using pesticides, especially as the Asian citrus psyllid develops resistance to the chemicals.

"These are the kind of strategies that can be incorporated into all citrus greening control protocols, regardless of whether people choose to grow using organic or conventional methods," said Shade.

Americans are consuming more organic fresh citrus and citrus juice. According to a recent Organic Trade Association survey of the organic industry, both organic fresh fruit sales and organic citrus juice sales in 2013 jumped around 25 percent. That growth could be stalled by citrus greening.

The Organic Center is deeply grateful for the generosity of its corporate and non-profit partners supporting its efforts. The Center extends its thanks to the UNFI Foundation, Uncle Matt's Organic, TRUE Organic Juice, A&E Television Network, South Tex Organics, Natural Grocers, Homegrown Organic Farms, ​Yin Yang Naturals, Global Organic, Four Seasons Produce, Jamba Juice, Caito Foods, Organically Grown Company, Ecosa Properties, RSF Social Finance, Better Life Organics, and Health and Lejeune Inc.

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