(June 6) Florida’s fight against the citrus canker disease has officially changed course.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signed senate bill 994, the “Citrus Disease Management” bill, May 31.

The bill replaces the state’s longtime canker eradication system with a citrus disease management and control program.

The law removes eradication references and requires the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to start a comprehensive citrus health plan to reduce the affect of citrus pests and diseases and allow the state’s packers to ship fruit to other states and countries, said Ray Gilmer, director of public affairs for the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, Maitland.

“It certainly puts us on a path to move forward,” he said. “The industry is energized about taking a new approach towards managing the canker problem and finding ways to grow the business.”

Gilmer said the new approach puts the industry past complete eradication that was increasingly viewed as a difficult hurdle.

Breeders are developing canker-resistant varieties that are being grown in the nurseries, Gilmer said.

“I don’t think anyone doubts that someday down the line, we will have a much better solution for canker than burning trees,” he said.

Doug Bournique, executive vice president of the Indian River Citrus League, Vero Beach, Fla., said the industry remains thankful that the governor has supported the industry.

“It (the bill) cleans up the mess that was left when the eradication program was mothballed or stopped,” he said. “It is a necessary bill that shifts the funding that we need into more research.”

The bill requires the state agriculture department to develop rules on how citrus plants can be grown, transported and planted. To prevent spread of citrus diseases, the bill also directs the department to start regulated zones of up to a mile around commercial citrus nurseries.

The bill also has provisions giving the Florida Citrus Commission more flexibility to increase box assessment rates to fund the Florida Department of Citrus, which conducts marketing and research.

The bill’s provisions take effect July 1.