(Dec. 27) Two citrus growers are taking Florida’s canker-eradication program to court.

The two grove owners, Boozer’s Service & Equipment Inc., Haines City, and Reed Bros. Inc., Dundee, face the possibility of losing their groves as a result of the eradication program. Both produce citrus for the juice market.

But, their attorney says, a victory for the state could have devastating effects on growers who supply the fresh market.

“A lot of guys are worried about this,” said Doug Lockwood, their Winter Haven-based attorney.

The suits challenge the constitutionality of Florida’s eradication program and the state’s claim it can destroy groves without paying compensation, Lockwood said.

The cases come in the wake of a U.S. Department of Agriculture report that canker could spread to as many as 183,000 additional acres across the state because of recent hurricanes.

The growers filed their actions against the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which runs the eradication program with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Lockwood says his clients are challenging the eradication program’s call to destroy all trees within 1,900 feet of any tree found to have canker.

Terry McElroy, a spokesman for the state’s agriculture department, said it was policy not to comment on specific cases.

In February 2004, the Florida Supreme Court upheld the 1,900-foot rule.

Residential trees were the focus of that case, but the court also ruled the program safeguarded commercial groves.

The two new suits mesh in challenging the eradication program but differ in circumstances, Lockwood said.

In the Boozer case, which seeks to block enforcement of the 1,900-foot rule, Lockwood said, his client claims the eradication process is useless if hurricanes have made canker so pervasive.

Canker was found in two nearby groves that pulled Boozer’s entire grove within the 1,900-foot limit.

In the other suit, according to the Palm Beach Post, Reed Bros. is seeking more than $2.5 million in compensation from the state after it put the company's citrus nursery under a two-year canker quarantine, forcing it to close.