Hurricanes Blamed for Fruit Infection
PUNTA GORDA, Fla. − This year's hurricanes spread citrus canker to at least 11,000 trees in Charlotte County, one of the largest outbreaks of the fruit-damaging infection to ever affect Florida's citrus industry, state officials said.
State agriculture officials found the infected trees in one grove in the northeast corner of the county. They have ordered the destruction of those trees and every other tree within a 1,900-foot radius of them.
When contractors are done, they will have chopped down 110,500 trees and cleared 850 acres, officials said. The winds blew canker into at least five other counties -- Osceola, Highlands, Lee, Collier and Orange.
Michael Barnes, a citrus canker eradication program director for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said he could not remember more than 3,500 infected trees ever being found in a grove.
Citrus canker is a contagious bacteria, typically spread by wind or animals and causing the trees to drop their leaves and fruit prematurely. It is not harmful to humans.
State agricultural officials say they are doing everything possible to contain the disease. But they acknowledge that they may not know how far it traveled because of the hurricanes, which hit Florida over a span of about six weeks in August and September.
"All of the science that we have on citrus canker is based on normal weather patterns," Barnes said.
The uncertainty worries growers, many of whom are already reeling from damage that the storms inflicted on this season's crops. Under the state's canker eradication program, every tree within 1,900 feet of an infected tree is destroyed.
Since a canker outbreak in 1995, the state has destroyed more than 2.4 million trees in commercial groves and 650,000 trees in residential areas.
Source: Associated Press