Growers tell agriculture leaders citrus greening disease needs solution now

Devastating disease is killing trees and jobs

LAKELAND, Fla. - Citrus greening disease is slowly killing one of Florida's biggest industries, and so far no one has found a way to stop it.

Thursday, area growers met in Lakeland with congressmen and agriculture leaders from Washington to learn about the next step in fighting the devastating disease.

"I will tell you that there are many more symptomatic greening trees this year than there was last year," said Vic Story, who has been a grower his whole life. "It's to the point where it's very worrisome."

Citrus greening not only kills trees, fruit, but also jobs -- already 8,000 by one estimate.

Story said he knows several small growers on the brink of collapse because they can't recover from the deadly disease.

"They're going to have to make a decision on whether they want to stay with us or not," he said.

If they stay, they need a solution fast.

Dr. Mary Palm, who is leading the USDA's multi-agency fight against citrus greening, told growers Thursday she'll be submitting a plan within the next 90 days on how to spend the $20 million recently set aside for research.

"What I can tell you is we're working as quickly as possible," she said.

Congressman Thomas Rooney explained how the recently passed farm bill will help with research dollars and was frank with his assessment.

"This is the moment of truth. We need something soon," he said.

As one grower put it, time is more important than money. They told the panel from Washington that they need a solution fast.

In the meantime, many growers are doing their own experiments with fertilizers and chemicals to see if they can slow down the death of their trees.

Perhaps the biggest concern if growers can't control the disease is the thought of one day walking into a supermarket and no longer finding orange juice on the shelves.

After all, 80 percent of it comes from Florida oranges.

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