State program helping farmers replace citrus trees lost to greening

Low angle view of tall trees
Stock image courtesy: Think Stock Photos

BRADENTON, Fla. (WFLA) — Over the past few years, the Florida citrus industry has been decimated by nasty disease that kills trees. Citrus greening is a bacterial disease that destroys the fruit and eventually kills trees.

The Florida Department of Agriculture is getting the word out about an incentive program that is meant to help farmers.

The state has set aside $5.5 million to help growers replant and re-establish their groves. Farmers will be given up to $250,000 to help cover the cost of new irrigation systems and newly planted trees on at least ten acres of land.

“It offsets some of the costs, but it’s a far cry from what we’ve spent on it. Most of the growers have spent 2 to 3 times more per acre on trying to maintain the trees,” said Dean Mixon, owner of Mixon Fruit Farms.

His business has been hit hard. He’s a third-generation citrus farmer in Bradenton and in recent years his crop has been getting smaller and smaller. “It’s been worse the last four or five years than we’ve ever seen,” he said.

He used to have trees that were more than 150 years old. Now, they’re all dead. “Some of these areas we’ve replanted three or four times in the last ten years,” said Mixon.

“Ten years ago, there were over 350 businesses like ours, farmers, family-owned that were doing gift fruit shipping. And now there’s less than 30,” said his wife, Janet Mixon.

The disease has forced them to find new ways to supplement their balance sheets. They’ve even started planting bamboo to help bolster their business. They acknowledge that farmers need all the help they can get, but they say this new incentive program may be too little too late.

It takes a few years for a newly planted tree to start growing fruit, and they have many rows of trees that are currently growing. It does not make wise economic sense for them to grow more trees to take part in this program. So,  they’ve taken matters into their own hands, trying novel techniques to combat citrus greening.

They’re testing new chemicals on a grove and so far it is working. “These trees were sticks basically, they had very few leaves on them,” said Dean Mixon.

Now it’s a lush grove and it’s flourishing.

The owners of Mixon Fruit Farms are doing all they can to fight back. They’re appreciative of the state’s attempts to help, but they feel the state should instead focusing on stopping the spread of the disease.

“What they need to do is stop the stuff from coming in so we can at least deal with what we got,” said Janet Mixon.

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