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Citrus Agency Will Fight Greening

BY IVAN PENN
ST.
PETERSBURG
TIMES

11/4/08

In a sign of how troubled the citrus industry is about the dreaded greening disease, the Florida Department of Citrus is shifting millions of dollars into finding ways to combat the tree-killing bacteria.

With the next fiscal year starting July 1, the department is deciding how much it will continue to shrink its marketing funds - historically 80 percent of its budget - to divert into research. The amount has not been determined, but the increase in research dollars is expected to be substantial.

Citrus growers want to develop a tree that can withstand the disease, which reduces a tree's production, destroys the fruit's value and kills it in five to eight years. It has spread to almost all of Florida's 32 citrus-producing counties.

That makes it the citrus industry's public enemy No. 1, worse than hurricanes, freezes and any other past disease.

The industry continues to recover from damage caused by the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons as it wrestles with citrus canker - a non-fatal disease that causes lesions on the trees and fruit - but citrus growers fear greening more.

In the past five years, Florida orange production has dropped from 230 million boxes a year to about 160 million, about 200 million fewer than leading producer Brazil.

This fiscal year alone, the Department of Citrus lowered its investment in marketing by more than 15 percent, to $40 million, to free up $2 million toward greening research.

Combined with other state and federal money, the industry will spend $10.7 million this year to fight greening and canker.

"We've been calling it sort of a Manhattan Project effort," said Andrew Meadows, spokesman for Florida Citrus Mutual, an industry trade association, referring to the project to develop the first nuclear weapon.

"We're working in Tallahassee. We're working in Washington. It's priority No. 1."

 


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