USDA adds funds to combat citrus greeningUSDA is offering financial assistance to eligible Florida citrus growers for the removal of trees afflicted with Huanglongbing, commonly known a citrus greening, which has wreaked havoc on the state’s fruit supply.

“USDA is investing in research and a variety of strategies to combat citrus greening over the long-term. In the meantime though, this support will help ensure growers are not wiped out in the short-term,” Vilsack said, announcing the financial support that comes through USDA’s Tree Assistance Program. “We must ensure that Florida’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.”

Citrus greening 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 threat of citrus greening is growing and the bacteria have already killed off millions of crops throughout the world. The disease was first discovered in the US in 2005 and can spread rapidly, killing a tree within four or five years.

The USDA program is currently funded to only help growers in Florida—the most immediate need—though other states could be eligible in the future.

According to USDA, Florida's citrus industry contributes $9 billion per year to the state’s economy and supports about 76,000 jobs. In the 2012-2013 growing season the US citrus crop was worth $3.15 billion, down 15 percent from the previous year.