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Canker spreads to citrus center

State agriculture inspectors say they have discovered 99 grapefruit trees infected with citrus canker in a commercial grove in southwest Florida's Hendry County, one of Florida's largest citrus producers.

Crews began torching the grove in the area west of Lake Okeechobee after Tuesday's find.

"It's a tough day for a guy in the citrus business. I've got a pretty sick feeling right now," said Carey Soud, manager and part owner of the Medusa Fruit Co. grove.

He said more than 30,000 citrus trees are likely to be destroyed because the grove will comply with a state law that requires the destruction of all citrus trees within 1,900 feet of an infected tree.

Homeowners, local governments and state officials have battled over the law for months.

Circuit Judge J. Leonard Fleet of Fort Lauderdale declared the law unconstitutional in May and granted a temporary injunction making it much harder for the state to chop down trees that are exposed to canker but not infected.

Fleet said the state's eradication policy was based on unsound science and ordered a trial. State officials are appealing the decision.

Canker has been detected in 13 counties, and more than 600,000 backyard trees and 1.5-million trees in commercial groves have been destroyed during a seven-year outbreak.

The latest find in Hendry County, which led Florida in citrus production during the 2000-01 season, "is very disturbing," said Casey Pace, spokeswoman for Florida Citrus Mutual, a trade association.

It "reaffirms the fact that we need to move quickly and aggressively on the eradication front and that's not happening right now."

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