Washington, D.C.—The needed money has begun to arrive in the search for non-toxic, organic ways to defeat citrus greening, the disease that has threatened to overwhelm the citrus industry. The Organic Center, based here, announced the success of its first-ever crowdfunding campaign, designed to drum up funds for its previously announced three-year study on citrus greening.

The group raised $20,417 with its crowdfunding drive, topping its goal of $15,000. The overall fundraising target for the study is $310,000. A $45,000 grant from the UNFI Foundation got things started, and a $5,000 grant came from RSF Social Finance, along with an offer from RSF to match another $5,000 in donations. According to the group, $78,167 had been raised as of the crowdfunding effort, including donations from many industry stakeholders.

The funds will be used to research ways to address the bacterial disease, also known as Huanglongbing, which is spread by Asian citrus psyllids. The hope is that researchers can identify materials and methods that can be successful for farmers, without them having to resort to dangerous chemicals or genetic engineering. The ultimate goal of the Center is to report its research findings in a document geared toward farmers, which would include protocols for dealing with the disease in different citrus-growing regions of the United States, along with a cost-benefit analysis of choosing these organic methods.

The initial research has focused on organic materials that can be sprayed weekly to help control the psyllids, and another aspect being addressed is the maintenance of beneficial predatory insects that help naturally control the disease-carrying psyllid populations. A third arm of the study will look at citrus trees with naturally occurring resistance to the disease. Several groves have been identified in Florida that seem to have held firm against the disease. These could be used to develop resistant tree varieties through natural breeding.

“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 Jessica Shade, Ph.D., the Center’s director of research programs.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, November 2014