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Economy / Business

Citrus Growers to USDA: We Need Help Now

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Robin Sussingham

The United States Department of Agriculture recently announced it was putting $21 million toward saving the citrus industry. They're trying to rescue it from what's widely seen as its biggest threat ever -- a disease called citrus greening.

Today in Lakeland, the USDA official who's coordinating how that money will be spent, Dr. Mary Palm,  spoke to dozens of growers and others that work in citrus. But the growers  stressed that they can't wait for long term solutions, and said that the industry needs immediate help to survive.

Hugh Thompson, the president of juice processor Cutrale in Auburndale, said even a treatment that's two or three years away is two long to wait.

"Right now the grower doesn't want to plant, " Thompson said. "He doesn't see any future in it. So unless we can give the grower something in about a year, I think we're going to lose a tremendous amount of ground. You're going to lose jobs, you'll lose processors, and we're losing growers."

 Palm said her agency understands the urgency. She said the immediate focus would be on bringing solutions to farmers in the field. Florida citrus is a $9 billion industry that supports 76,000 jobs.

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