By TAMARA LUSH, Associated Press
Published 1:37 pm, Wednesday, September 17, 2014
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Florida's citrus growers whose groves are affected by a deadly citrus disease can recoup some of the cost of tree removal and replanting under a federal program announced Wednesday.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that the Tree Assistance Program is now being extended to Florida growers affected by citrus greening.
The program allows farmers replant or rehabilitate eligible trees, bushes and vines damaged by natural disasters. Under the program, Florida citrus growers will be eligible for up to 50 percent of the cost of the removal of diseased trees, 65 percent of the cost of replanting and labor, and 65 percent of the cost of seedlings. Losses must have occurred on or after Oct. 1, 2011.
Vilsack said it's important for Florida growers to remove the diseased trees and replant new trees, otherwise the industry will continue to suffer crop and job losses.
"We don't really have a definitive solution and in order to keep this contained and hopefully over time, reverse it," said Vilsack.
"It's going to be necessary for us to put an emphasis on removing diseased trees and planting new trees."
He estimated that around 4,500 grove owners could be eligible for the program. Growers can recoup up to $125,000 in assistance; individuals or business with average gross income exceeding $900,000 are ineligible for payment.
"We need six million trees to be replanted to make up for the losses already sustained," said Vilsack.
Citrus greening is a bacteria spread by a psyllid.
Florida's citrus growers have been the hardest-hit in the U.S. Researchers are working furiously to come up with a vaccine or cure.
Citrus is a large part of Florida's agriculture landscape. The state's oranges, and orange juice, are iconic, having been marketed to Americans for decades as a wholesome breakfast drink.
The citrus industry contributes $9 billion per year to the state's economy and supports about 76,000 jobs.
Most of Florida's oranges are used for juice, unlike California oranges which are destined for the fresh fruit market.
According to the USDA, the U.S. citrus crop was worth $3.15 billion in the 2012-2013 growing season, down 15 percent from the previous season. The value of the Florida citrus crop was $1.53 billion in the 2012-2013 growing season, and the state comprised 63 percent of all U.S. citrus production.