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Canker rears head again in Manatee

Published Sep. 27, 2005

An orange tree infected with citrus canker has been found in a rural area north of Palmetto, disappointing but not shocking news to those who have been fighting the citrus disease.

The discovery, in an area where the debilitating citrus disease had been detected eight months ago, means that 1,200 other citrus trees within 1,900 feet will be destroyed even though they may not appear to have canker. Half of those trees are in a commercial grove.

It marks another small battle lost in the 14-year war to rid Florida of a disease that scars fruit, causes premature leaf drop and is so feared that other citrus-producing areas often close their markets to fruit from a canker zone.

"We had hoped we wouldn't find any more because we've taken such stringent action," said Leon Hebb, who has been battling canker in Manatee County for the past four years as an official with the Florida Department of Agriculture. "But we have had a history of canker in the area."

State scientists on Monday confirmed the find was canker, and on Tuesday other state officials were mapping out the destruction zone. The trees scheduled for destruction are on 75 properties. There is no known way to kill the bacterial plant disease without destroying the tree.

Since canker is so easily spread by wind and rain, scientists have determined that all citrus within 1,900 feet of an infected tree also could have the disease and therefore must be destroyed.

State agricultural officials were glad they found the tree, which appeared to have a relatively recent infection, before the rainy season begins in the next month or two.

"We're bracing for that," said Wendell Bowman, an analyst for the state canker project. "We know we're going to find some, but I'm hoping we won't find too much."