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Updated: UF’s Plagued Citrus Trees Finally Removed

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Updated, Oct. 10: The removal of 156 citrus trees from the University of Florida campus due to citrus greening disease finished around Sept. 27, said Janine Sikes, UF spokeswoman.

UF plans to replant trees in place of the lost ones, but they will not be citrus trees. There is no way to contain or prevent the spread of a contagious disease like citrus greening on a campus the size of UF’s in the future, Sikes said. 

Original story, Sept. 17: The University of Florida temporarily halted an initiative this week to remove about 150 citrus trees from campus, after a committee bypassed university approval.

UF Business Affairs must sign off on a plan before Physical Plant workers can continue removing trees, said Janine Sikes, UF spokeswoman.

On Wednesday, a committee decided removal was the only viable option left for the diseased trees.

The committee is made up of representatives from the Physical Plant Division, Horticultural Sciences Department, Department of Microbiology & Cell Science and the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Kevin Folta, interim chair of the UF Horticultural Sciences Department, said taking action now is highly advised.

“There’s no question about it,” Folta said. “If a tree gets infected, it must be extracted from the plot to avoid spreading the disease.”

Last week, the committee discussed a possible spray method that would need to be done monthly in order to prolong the life of the trees, but the process was considered too costly for the Physical Plant Division’s budget. The cost would only be a small part of a much larger problem.

Greening has cost Florida’s economy an estimated $4.5 billion in lost revenues since 2006, along with just over 8,000 jobs, according to the most recent economic impacts report from IFAS researchers. That is half of Florida’s $9 billion citrus industry, the nation’s largest.

Most of the southern states of the U.S. have been infected and are under quarantine, including the country’s other big citrus-producing state, California, where it was detected in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The spray can only go so far, Folta said. The department has been using the spray monthly on its teaching orchards in order to keep the citrus trees that research is conducted on infection-free.

“It’s not a matter of if, but when,” Folta said. “There is no silver bullet.”

He said once a tree gets the disease, there is no saving it. The spray is used solely as a preventative measure.

There are some exceptions now in the breeding program of the horticultural sciences department.

“Some genetic strains can tolerate the infection better than others and a few have shown promise,” Folta said.

Donna Bloomfield, superintendent of grounds and landscaping at UF, said the Physical Plant Division already removed six to eight small citrus trees this past Friday outside the Reitz Union.

“I hope that there is a better way than taking them all out,” she said. “(I hope) we can save all of them if not most of them.”

The process to remove about 150 possibly infected citrus trees will take two to three weeks as long as there are no complications, Bloomfield said. There is no timetable at the moment for a final decision by the committee, but she hopes to send crews out by the end of the week.

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