Thursday, January 12, 2006

Citrus Canker Eradication Not Possible?

What Does This Mean For Local Growers?

LABELLE, FL. (Jan. 11, 2005) -- Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and
Consumer Services Charles H. Bronson has received word from top U.S.
Department of Agriculture officials that they no longer believe that it is
possible to eradicate citrus canker. USDA's position was formally
communicated in a letter from Deputy Secretary Chuck Conner. Officials
said based on USDA's scientific analysis of the potential spread of the
disease from the unprecedented 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, a new
management plan must be devised. Hendry county is one of the top citrus
producing counties in Florida.

The USDA officials say the program needs to undertake a new approach that
focuses on maintaining bacteria levels low enough to sustain citrus
production and protect citrus groves that have not been infested with
canker. In the meantime, USDA states that it will no longer fund tree
removal that is done with eradication as the goal. The federal agency, in
conjunction with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer
Services, intends to develop a response plan with scientific, industry and
public input that will limit further tree removal and implement management
practices that will accomplish the goals of controlling and suppressing
canker infestations.

"I am committed to working with our federal partner, the scientific
community and growers on steps to ensure the continued sustainability of
this industry, so critical to the economic well being of our state, as well
as protecting the thousands of residential trees that have not yet been
impacted by citrus canker," Bronson said. "I will make all resources
available to determine where we go to secure the future of the citrus

The change comes after a review of scientific research that indicates
Hurricane Wilma may have spread the disease to the point where an estimated
168,000 to 220,000 aces of commercial citrus could be infected and exposed
to canker. This is in addition to the more than 80,000 acres of commercial
citrus that was affected by the 2004 hurricanes. The USDA also indicates
that growers have said they cannot survive the loss of more than 25 percent
of the state's citrus acreage and that federal costs to implement the
1,900-foot tree removal would cost significantly more than the annual $36
million federal appropriation as well as hundreds of millions of dollars
more in compensation payments to growers. The USDA has provided a
significant portion of the funding for the Citrus Canker Eradication
Program and all of the grower compensation since its inception in 1995.

"Unfortunately, everything the scientists predicted has come true," Bronson
said. "The legal delays and unprecedented hurricanes enabled the bacteria
to leapfrog significantly beyond the 1,900-foot cutting zone that science
showed was necessary to prevent spread under normal weather conditions."

In addition, Bronson pledged to continue his efforts to convince the
Legislature and USDA to provide compensation for homeowners and growers who
have already had trees removed. He will be requesting additional funding
for homeowners during the 2006 legislative session and will be working with
USDA to secure money for growers who are currently on a waiting list for
federal compensation dollars.

As a result of the USDA decision, the Florida Legislature will have to
revisit the laws that guide the Citrus Canker Eradication Program, notably
the requirement that the Department remove infected citrus trees and those
exposed because they are located within 1,900 feet.

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