DOVER — A top official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture got a first-hand look Monday at the threat of citrus greening.
U.S.D.A. Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden pledged her agency would do all it could to find a way to stop the disease that is killing trees across the state.
She toured an ailing grove owned by C. Dennis Carlton Sr., where Valencia oranges on infected trees are green and disfigured.
Carlton, who owns 500 to 600 acres of citrus in Hillsborough and Hardee counties, said the disease threatens the entire citrus industry.
“We don’t have 10 years to figure this out. We need something done now,” Carlton said.
Harden, who grew up on a Georgia peanut farm, said she could identify with the challenges faced by farmers.
“You have a partner in us. I can’t imagine a Florida without oranges and orange juice,” she said.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced last week the agency would put an extra $1 million into research, in addition to millions already committed to the cause.
The citrus greening bacteria, which is spread by an insect, has infected many of the state’s citrus trees. While the bacteria is harmless to humans or animals, it causes bitter fruit that’s unmarketable and eventually kills the tree.
It’s also shown up in other citrus producing states, but Florida growers have been hit the hardest by far.
Carlton said he’s given up on citrus on some of his land near Plant City and planted strawberries. But he said not all growers are as fortunate to have alternatives. Much of Florida’s citrus land isn’t easily converted to another profitable crop and is too remote to consider for development, he said.