WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announced that up to $100 million is available to compensate all remaining eligible commercial citrus growers and nursery owners in Florida for losses resulting from citrus canker eradication efforts undertaken before Jan. 10, 2006.

"This administration made a commitment to commercial citrus growers and nursery owners whose livelihoods were impacted by citrus canker eradication efforts," said Johanns. "With up to $636 million in funding made available to date, I'm very pleased to say we've fulfilled that commitment, ensuring that everyone who is eligible for compensation receives payment. We can now focus on moving forward with a cooperative plan that will enable Florida to safely produce, process and ship healthy citrus."

Hurricanes in 2004 and 2005 spread citrus canker in Florida so extensively that it was determined on Jan. 10, 2006 that eradication was no longer a scientifically feasible option. At that time, the established program was modified to stop the practice of destroying trees within 1,900 feet of an infected tree.

In a June 7 interim rule, the USDA published provisions to provide nursery owners, in addition to commercial grove owners, with compensation for trees destroyed under the program before Jan. 10. Today's announcement addresses all outstanding and eligible compensation claims, bringing the compensation effort to a close.

USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has worked closely with state partners and other stakeholders to develop a new science-based approach to managing citrus canker, which was announced in March. The Citrus Health Response Plan focuses on maintaining the health of Florida's citrus while acknowledging that eradication is no longer possible. The plan establishes accepted standards to propagate, produce, harvest, process and ship healthy Florida citrus.

The plan also establishes an area-wide compliance program and identifies minimum standards for implementing appropriate survey, diagnostics, and mitigation measures to reduce the proliferation and spread of citrus canker and other diseases of regulatory significance.

After consultation with industry representatives and state agriculture officials, USDA proposed an interim rule on Aug. 2, 2006, that allows Florida citrus growers to ship canker-free fruit to non-citrus-producing states. USDA continues to regularly communicate and work with its cooperators and industry groups to safeguard other citrus-producing states against the spread of citrus canker, while ensuring that Florida citrus production remains part of this nation's agricultural heritage.

SOURCE: USDA news release