DOVER, Fla. — U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden wanted to learn more about how Florida growers are dealing with citrus greening.

During a Jan. 13 visit with a Plant City-area grower, she saw firsthand how greening, also known as HLB and huanglongbing, is devastating the state’s citrus groves.

USDA official sees citrus greening in Florida visitHarden visited with citrus and strawberry grower C. Dennis Carlton Sr.

In the past, Carlton’s acreage in Hillsborough and Hardee counties was dedicated entirely to citrus but after greening destroyed much of his groves, he converted 90 acres of his nearly 700 citrus acres into strawberries.

“The problem today is we’re not putting these groves back, due to the uncertainty,” Carlton told the deputy secretary. “This is not just a Florida problem anymore. It’s now a U.S. problem.”

Harden said the federal government, scientists and growers must work quickly to get federal research dollars moving to find a short-term solution.

She said it was discouraging to see what’s going on with the growers and said the USDA remains sympathetic and understands how frustrating the situation is for growers.

“The USDA gets that and will put as much effort as we can to finding a solution,” Harden said. “Florida was first hit and hit the hardest by this disease but we’re finding it throughout the world. We want to make sure Florida’s oranges continue as a symbol around the world for a good product.”

Because of less diversification and opportunities to grow other crops, Carlton told Harden greening could become a bigger problem for citrus grower-shippers in the eastern part of the state.