Florida citrus canker eradication effort gets major boost

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has announced an additional $53.75 million in emergency funding to eradicate citrus canker in Florida.

"This critical funding from USDA will help accelerate eradication activities and keep citrus canker from spreading in Florida," said Johanns. "USDA is providing these funds to help Florida protect the health of the citrus industry, which has been placed at greater risk by a series of hurricanes that have spread the wind-borne disease."

Since October 1995, when citrus canker was first detected in Miami, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) have been working to eradicate the disease. In total, USDA has provided more than $378.6 million in funding to support eradication activities. In addition, President Bush's fiscal year 2006 budget calls for $42.6 million in citrus canker funding. This latest infusion of emergency money will support tree removal and commercial grove surveillance.

By August 2004, USDA and FDACS were making significant headway in eradication activities. Just a few months later, however, several hurricanes decimated Florida's citrus producing areas, causing significant canker spread and $500 million in damage to the Florida citrus industry. This pattern of increased hurricane activity has continued, and the effects became evident during the spring and summer 2005 growing season when 269 new citrus canker infections were detected in commercial citrus groves.

Citrus canker is a rapidly spreading, highly contagious bacterial disease that causes fruit to drop prematurely. In addition, citrus canker lesions make infected fruit unmarketable. Because there is no chemical cure or treatment for citrus canker in Florida, the only way to eradicate the disease is to destroy all infected or exposed trees.

Despite the damaging effects of recent hurricanes, the joint USDA-FDACS eradication program has continued to protect Florida's citrus market. No interstate markets have closed to shipments of Florida citrus from non-quarantine areas and no foreign markets have closed due to the presence of citrus canker. The program also remains highly successful in detecting infestations early and rapidly removing infected and exposed trees before the disease can spread.

Accelerating eradication activities is essential to the health of Florida's citrus industry, which represents 77 percent of U.S. citrus production and provides, both directly and indirectly, 90,000 full-time jobs. Annually, the Florida citrus industry generates $9.1 billion, including $5 billion in wages.

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