- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 29, 2002

PALM BAY, Fla. (AP) The crop-destroying citrus canker has spread to the Indian River grove country, which provides most of the bagged and boxed oranges sold to tourists and mailed around the country as gifts, despite a battle by the state to wipe out the disease in South Florida.
Federal inspectors went door to door yesterday in search of the disease after canker blemishes were discovered last week on grapefruit trees in two adjacent homeowners' yards in Brevard County.
It marked the northernmost penetration of the disease; the Indian River area stretches along the midsection of Florida's Atlantic coast. The disease previously had been confined to nine counties in southwestern and southern Florida.
At risk is the state's $9 billion citrus industry.
"Inspectors are jumping as fast they can to check the spread and locate where it may be and how it got here," said Tyrone Kemp, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "If it's a human carrier, it could be a guy mowing the lawn and he's taking his equipment from one place to another."
Canker bacteria cause unsightly brown blemishes on fruit and can cause it to drop prematurely from trees. The disease does not harm humans.
Yesterday, 16 inspectors from the Department of Agriculture examined citrus trees within a mile of the infected trees in Brevard County.
Agriculture officials are trying to determine how the disease hopscotched north, bypassed three counties and landed in Brevard.
Unlike many people in South Florida, residents in Brevard County seemed largely supportive of eradication efforts.
"It's important. Citrus is a big industry in Florida," said Richard Lawton, 78, whose two orange trees were found to be fine. "They could take my trees tomorrow if they wanted."
Homeowners in South Florida are fighting the state to keep their citrus trees from being pulled up and destroyed as part of a canker-eradication program. Under the program, citrus trees within 1,900 feet of an infected tree are to be destroyed.
Growers and agriculture officials have been battling the canker in eight South Florida counties for several years. Almost 2 million trees have been destroyed.
This month, a judge said a group of South Florida homeowners opposed to the eradication program can sue the state through a class-action lawsuit.


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