Buchanan, Manatee growers seek solutions to citrus greening problem

srocco@bradenton.comFebruary 20, 2014 

BRADENTON -- Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, held a roundtable discussion Wednesday with a dozen local citrus growers and representatives from the Florida Citrus Mutual, Tropicana and other firms to address citrus greening and how the citrus industry plans to use federal funding to fight the disease.

The $125 million in funding comes from the passage of a $956 million farm bill President Barack Obama signed this month. Another $125 million in discretionary funding will go toward finding a cure for citrus greening.

"Today's meeting, now that we have the funding, is to get them to come up with a plan about how to go forward, about how to invest that money in research and get the biggest impact as quickly as we can," Buch

anan said.

As the top citrus-producing state in the nation, the Florida citrus industry generates $9 billion in economic activity and employs nearly 76,000 people. Sarasota and Manatee counties alone support $994 million in economic activity and employ 8,700 workers.

"The money helps, but ultimately the focus is in the lab or on the groves ... what's important is science," said Andrew Meadows, Florida Citrus Mutual spokesman.

As citrus greening plagues crops and decreases production, Manatee area farmers are desperate for help.

"We've got to do something now because we're losing groves, production. We've got to try anything we can," said Dean Mixon of Mixon Fruit Farms in Bradenton, where the discussion was held.

Louis Haverlock of Lou Ross Citrus came from Brandon to participate in the discussion. Before the disease tore through his crops, the farm produced 240 million boxes of citrus each year. Now, production is down to 115 million boxes.

"Fifty percent -- that's what we've lost over time," Haverlock said.

Citrus greening cropped up in Florida citrus groves in 2005, spreading to all 32 citrus-growing counties across the state in just two years. It now affects crops in California, Texas, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Hawaii. Right now, Florida is harvesting its smallest orange crop in 24 years.

Farmers are hopeful the federal money, which will be spread out over a five-year period, will take effect soon enough to save their businesses.

"The time frame between the funding and the researching and by the time we can get something approved and labeled, we're out of business," Mixon said. "In some areas where we're picking, we're throwing away half the fruit we pick."

Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @sabrinarocco.

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