Huanglongbing (HLB) doesn’t sound threatening, but the disease could mean calamity for Florida’s $9 billion citrus industry.

Also known as citrus greening, it is the focus of a $9 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant awarded Monday to the Citrus Research and Development Foundation (CRDF), a University of Florida direct-support organization.

“We’re really excited about it, and hope it complements what we’re already doing in trying to solve this problem,” said Harold Browning, Chief Operating Officer for the CRDF, in an interview with Southeast AgNet.

The Foundation and the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, along with several other research groups across the nation, plan to use this money on limiting the ability of the Asian citrus psyllid to carry the citrus greening bacterium. Through the modification of the psyllid and its ability to carry or pass on the bacteria, researchers aim to dilute the wild populations with one that can not infect citrus trees.

“I must commend Secretary Vilsack for his leadership on this issue and understanding that the key to beating this insidious disease lies in the laboratory,” said Michael Sparks, executive VP/CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual, in a press release.

In the meantime, the CRDF is focusing on ways to limit the disease’s spread, which has already cost the industry more than $3.63 billion since 2006, according to a UF study earlier this year.

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