Growers: Act now to fight greening, save citrus crop
Orlando Sentinel – July 29, 2012
The battle against the bug-borne bacteria known ascitrus greening — the greatest threat to Florida’s valuable citrus crop — is taking on a fresh sense of urgency with a bill sponsored by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson that would pour millions of dollars more into the fight.
The Florida Democrat proposes a new citrus trust fund to research and eradicate diseases such as citrus greening, using tariffs collected on imported citrus.
The menace posed by citrus greening is alarming, according to Andrew Meadows, spokesman for Florida Citrus Mutual, a trade group representing 8,000 growers.
“This is the pre-eminent threat,” Meadows said. “If we don’t find a way to beat this disease in the lab, we won’t have citrus to market.”
Florida is the nation’s largest citrus producer and the second-largest orange-juice producer in the world, second to Brazil. The state’s citrus groves generate about $8.9 billion a year, according to University of Florida economists.
Citrus greening, the newest threat to the industry, was first discovered in a Miami-Dade grove in 2005. It is a bacterium carried by an Asian insect and has already spread to all 32 of the state’s citrus-growing counties. There is no cure.
Once a tree is infected, the fruit becomes misshapen, discolored and bitter and falls prematurely. The tree dies within a few years.
Since 2006, the disease has caused $3.63 billion in losses to Florida’s economy, according to a University of Florida study.
Nelson’s bill passed a key Senate panel earlier this month.
“If we don’t stop this now, we’ll end up paying five bucks for an orange — and it’ll be one imported from someplace else,” Nelson said. “We need to do more to fund efforts aimed at getting rid of this threat to a vital industry in our state.”
The new citrus trust fund would pull money from the $50 million to $87 million a year collected annually from imported citrus, primarily from Brazil. That money usually goes into the general treasury, but the proposal would designate a third of those tariffs, up to $30 million, for the fund.
Citrus trust funds would support various research and disease eradication projects for up to five years, with funds divvied out through an advisory board. Funds could pay for other citrus diseases and insect problems.
Growers have been pushing for a federal fund for two years. Already, the state’s growers have spent $60 million toward the 100 different research projects trying to combat the disease.
However, that is money being diverted from acitrus-marketing fund, and spending the money on disease efforts has hurt business, Meadows said.
The federal proposal now competes with other bills for passage before the full Senate and House.
“We’re optimistic we can get something done before year’s end,” Meadows said.