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New citrus canker cases discovered

Citrus canker is spreading into Florida grapefruit country with discoveries of the disease in an Indian River County grove and a St. Lucie County subdivision.

State agriculture officials on Friday said citrus canker was found for the first time in Indian River County, with 45 infected trees in Cobb Grove. Seven more infected trees were found in St. Lucie County.

"It's bad. The problem's worse that most people think it is," said Jack Hebb, the University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service citrus agent for St. Lucie, Indian River, Martin and Okeechobee counties. "And it's only getting worse."

Canker in St. Lucie was first found Wednesday on a "sentinel" tree, one of 150,000 citrus trees checked regularly by U.S. Department of Agriculture staffers.

Canker is considered a serious threat to the state's multibillion dollar citrus industry because it causes ugly lesions on fruit and fruit to fall early. The state removes all citrus trees within 1,900 feet of infected ones.

Since the canker outbreak in 1995, the state has destroyed more than 2.4 million trees in commercial groves and 650,000 trees in residential areas.