Canker toll at millions of trees
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
More than 3.6 million commercial citrus trees have been, or are scheduled to be, felled in the fight against citrus canker, new figures from the state Agriculture Department show.
Much of the recent spread of the disease to Florida 's citrus-growing regions came about from the hurricanes of 2004, which spread the bacterium to previously untouched areas.
Whether more canker was spread by the high winds and heavy rain of Hurricane Dennis — which hit the Gulf Coast on Sunday — will take a while to determine.
State and federal officials expect to begin assessing Dennis' track later this week, state Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Denise Feiber said Monday. Although Dennis did not hit the state's citrus-producing areas directly, wind and rain were prevalent throughout the state over the weekend, so the outlook isn't good.
"Canker spreads in 17-mph winds," Feiber said. "We have a statewide grove assessment program going on. We may have to change the schedule. After a hurricane hits, it takes a certain amount of time before you see evidence of canker."
Growers are more worried than ever about the spread of the disease and whether infected and exposed trees are being removed quickly enough.
"They are having finds every day. The recent storm activity we have had this weekend is of great concern," said Robert Underbrink, vice president of farming operations for King Ranch, which owns Fort Myers-based Consolidated Citrus, the nation's largest citrus grower at 50,000 acres.
"The question in everyone's mind is: 'How much... is out there?' " he said.
The sentinel tree grove survey that began June 29 is an attempt to answer that question. About 100 canker searchers who formerly surveyed in residential areas are now looking in selected groves.
Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual, the state's largest growers' group, is holding closed-door meetings around the state about the sentinel survey, including one in Vero Beach on Wednesday and one in Lake Wales on July 21.
Florida Citrus Mutual spokeswoman Casey Pace said Monday the group decided to close the meetings to the media and the public so that growers will be free to ask any questions they wish.
Attendees will discuss what's being billed as the canker eradication program's new road map.
Deputy Agriculture Commissioner Craig Meyer said Monday the sentinel grove survey will do three sweeps through the industry, picking up more sites each time over the next four to six months.
"Because of the storms and the wide dispersal, we want to know where canker is and where it isn't," Meyer said.