On Dec. 19, more than 100 citrus growers attended a presentation regarding the potential threat of citrus canker spread due to the 2005 hurricane season. It was conducted by U.S. Department of Agriculture and University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences scientists.

Officials preliminarily project canker spread due to the storms to impact an additional 169,000 to 183,000 acres in the next year, which is approximately 26 percent to 28 percent of the state’s citrus acreage. Growers have lost more than 80,000 acres in the past year from citrus canker spread during the 2004 hurricane season.

Due to these projections, growers are requesting that the USDA, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and UF/IFAS review the study presented in order to determine how the 2005 hurricane activity would impact the viability of the citrus industry.

Also at the meeting, attendees voted unanimously to request that Florida Citrus Mutual take the lead on dealing with citrus canker and the canker eradication program in order to coordinate the initiative and ensure the industry speaks with one voice. All of the regional citrus grower organizations and the Florida Citrus Packers, Lakeland, were represented in the audience.

The fact that officials are estimating a canker impact twice as large as last year is overwhelming. This could devastate the Florida citrus industry as we know it today and have an enormous trickle down impact on citrus-associated businesses and rural communities that rely heavily on the citrus industry for economic sustainability.

Mutual will update growers and the industry as issues arise. I ask that you be patient as issues may change on a daily basis. As always, I encourage you to contact Mutual if you have any questions or concerns regarding the canker eradication program. If I am not available, feel free to speak with another staff member. It is imperative we stay united in our efforts.

Andrew LaVigne is the executive vice president/CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual, Lakeland. E-mail is andyl@flcitrusmutual.com.