USDA pulling out of the fight on citrus canker in Florida

Published: Thursday, January 12, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 11, 2006 at 10:15 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE - Convinced Florida cannot win its fight to eradicate citrus canker spread by hurricanes across the state over the past two years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Wednesday it will no longer help pay for the program.
The decision is likely to be expensive for Florida homeowners, who now will be responsible for paying to have diseased trees removed.
"The disease is now so widely distributed that eradication is infeasible," USDA deputy secretary Chuck Conner wrote in a letter Tuesday to Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson.
Conner recommended Florida rescind its law requiring the removal of trees within 1,900 feet of one infected with citrus canker.
"What can we do to replace this policy?" Gov. Jeb Bush asked Wednesday. "We're going to have to develop a policy of some kind to protect the citrus growers."
Bronson, who still believes the 1,900-foot law provided the best protection for growers, said the department would ask the Legislature to repeal the law.
"Right now we're only going to take out diseased trees," Bronson said. noting that about a fourth of the industry has already been lost.
The storms in 2004 and 2005 made it too costly to adhere to the 1,900-foot rule. They caused an estimated $2.2 billion in damage to the state's crops and farming infrastructure and are also thought to have spread the disease that further threatens the state's $9 billion citrus industry.
The feds noted up to 220,000 acres of commercial citrus could be in for mandatory eradication as a result of Hurricane Wilma that struck Florida in October.
"Basically it's gotten out of control because of hurricanes," Bronson said Wednesday. "It's leapfrogging miles instead of yards.
Bronson said the state and homeowners will be paid for everything that has been cut through Jan. 10, but he urged people to keep removing infected trees at their own expense.
"The money for the existing program is gone," Bronson said. "If you see a tree in your yard that has it, you'd better take it down because it will affect other trees,"

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