Rep. Cuellar Announces Over $130 Million in Appropriations Bill to Help Citrus Growers

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Congressman works to provide funds for Rio Grande Valley citrus industry

Caption: Congressman Henry Cuellar (TX-28) meets with Dale Murden of Texas Citrus Mutual in Washington to discuss issues pertaining to the citrus industry.
Caption: Congressman Henry Cuellar (TX-28) meets with Dale Murden of Texas Citrus Mutual in Washington to discuss issues pertaining to the citrus industry.

Texas Border Business

WASHINGTON— Congressman Henry Cuellar (TX-28) announced over $130 million in federal funds to help U.S. citrus growers, including those in the Rio Grande Valley. The funds will offer support to citrus farmers in numerous ways to protect the citrus industry. The provisions were secured in the fiscal year 2019 spending bill package, which includes Agriculture Appropriations.

“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,” said Congressman Cuellar. “We have a responsibility to support Texas Citrus Industries that help fuel economic growth in our communities. The $130 million that I have secured for citrus growers through fruit fly eradication efforts will be a great help to our farmers who rely on this funding.”

To help Rio Grande Valley farmers battle the scourge of Citrus Greening Disease, Congressman Cuellar advocated for and secured $61 million for the Citrus Health Response Program, including $8.5 million for the Huanglongbing Multi-Agency Coordination (HLB-MAC) Group under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The goal of the HLB-MAC is to combat citrus greening diseases through research efforts and coordination between state and federal regulatory agencies. The Congressman additionally helped secure $72.6 million for fruit fly exclusion, detection, and quarantine.

The U.S. citrus industry has an economic footprint of $11 billion; however, due to Citrus Greening Disease and fruit flies, the industry has faced steep damages and economic losses. All of the citrus growing counties in Texas are under quarantine, and the State of Florida has seen a reduction in citrus production of over 60% since 2007. In addition, the Asian Citrus Psyllid, the vector of the Greening Disease, has been found in California.

By allocating funds towards various efforts to help preserve citrus-trees in the Rio Grande Valley and the surrounding area, citrus-farmers in Congressman Cuellar’s district are able to preserve the value of their crops and maintain industry prices for the regular consumer.

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Congressman Cuellar continued, “We are making good progress toward correcting the damage done by the incurable citrus greening disease, which has caused drastic reductions in citrus production in recent years. I am committed to continuing to work with my colleagues in Congress to tackle this serious issue.”

“I would like to thank Speaker Pelosi, Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Bishop,  Ranking Member Fortenberry, and my fellow Appropriators for helping me secure these funds said Congressman Cuellar. “Additionally, I recognize Texas Citrus Mutual for their continued efforts to help fight citrus-greening within the state.”

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 diseases like citrus greening since it was first positively identified in the Valley in 2008.

“Congressman Cuellar has consistently supported agriculture and the United States and Texas Citrus industries,” Mr. Murden said. “Can you imagine the Rio Grande Valley without citrus trees? The frightening part is, that is what could happen if we do not get ahead of the issue. We cannot thank Congressman Cuellar enough for his support in combatting this disease crippling citrus growers and his bipartisan approach to problem-solving.”

More information regarding Fruit Flies

The Fruit Fly Exclusion and Detection Programs protect the health and value of American agricultural resources threatened by the establishment of exotic fruit fly populations. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service or APHIS is concerned with the risk of the northward spread of exotic fruit fly species into the United States via Mexico. Mexico is an especially high-risk pathway due to the shared border and the large numbers of people migrating from fruit fly infested areas of Central America and Mexico to the United States.

Fruit flies spend their larval stages feeding and growing in over 400 host plants. Introduction of these pest species into the United States causes economic losses from destruction and spoiling of host commodities by larvae, costs associated with implementing control measures, and loss of market share due to restrictions on shipment of host commodities. The extensive damage and wide host range of fruit flies become obstacles to agricultural diversification and trade when pest fruit fly species become established.

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.

In addition, he included language encouraging the continuation of good work with industry, universities, growers, and other partners to develop effective control mechanisms 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.

Within the bill, 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.

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