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USDA Allots Scientists $7.3 Million
By Kevin Bouffard
Published: Thursday, March 19, 2015 at 10:10 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 19, 2015 at 10:10 p.m
WINTER HAVEN | The U.S. Department of Agriculture has given Florida researchers $7.3 million to help eradicate diseases, pests and other creepy crawlies that damage crops.
That represents 12.6 percent of the $57.9 million appropriated for such efforts this year through the federal Farm Bill.
"The projects and centers funded through this effort are helping to develop and put in place the strategies, methods and treatments that safeguard our crops, plants and our natural resources from invasive threats," said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement late Wednesday.
The biggest grant was $2.4 million to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to control the giant African land snail, considered one of the most dangerous pests in the world because it feeds on more than 500 plants and endangers human health. It surfaced in Miami-Dade County in 2011 and has spread to Broward County, both of which have areas under quarantine.
Others include $726,670 to develop dogs that can detect diseases, including citrus greening, through scent; $812,624 to enhance detection of pests in marinas, canals and other high-risk sites; and $224,632 for a new model to predict points of entry for pests and diseases.
"With about two dozen international ports of entry, Florida is a magnet for invasive plant pests and diseases. Experts estimate that a new pest or disease arrives in our state on average every month," said Lisa Lochridge, spokeswoman for the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association in Maitland. "The ongoing effort to prevent entry and fight the devastation these pests and diseases can wreak costs hundreds of millions of dollars, so this is welcome news."
The new money represents a 35 percent increase from last year's USDA appropriations for pest and disease research.
"From citrus greening to giant African land snails and many others, pests and diseases are major threats to Florida agriculture," Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam said in a statement Thursday. "This funding will help prevent the spread of pests and diseases throughout the state and help keep Florida's $120 billion agriculture industry going strong."
U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, agreed.
"This federal funding is another critical piece to ensure Florida's citrus industry has immediate funds for research and development methods for citrus health," he said.