Putnam gives dire warning about Fla. citrus-greening crisis

Citrus greening poses an “existential crisis” for a Florida’s iconic citrus industry, and there is no solution on the horizon, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Monday.

In a wide-ranging meeting with Tallahassee reporters in his Capitol office suite, Putnam also touched on managing the state’s water supply and his own political future.

But greening dominated the hour-long discussion.

In the 2013 session, the Legislature appropriated $9.5 million to study the threat to agriculture in Florida, the state’s second largest industry after tourism.

The disease carries a threat beyond the industry itself, Putnam said.putnam

Local tax collections, spinoff businesses, everything connected to citrus in Florida will feel the effects, he said.

“This is a significant factor for any local government that’s come to depend on Florida’s signature crop,” Putnam said.

Greening is caused by bacteria that spread from tree to tree. And it has spread far. First detected in Florida in 2005, it is found in every county in the state, every citrus-producing state in the country, and every citrus-producing country in the world.

Its primary impact is on citrus crops, since it kills fruit before it ripens, but it will eventually destroy the tree itself.

Putnam said there’s been a 6 percent downgrade of the state’s citrus crop because of the disease – “without a hurricane,” he said. “That’s unprecedented.

The Legislature approved $9 million for citrus greening research, Putnam said.

Breeding trees resistant to the disease is the man area for citrus greening research, Putnam said, but it’s a long process getting there. And the journey hasn’t really begun.

Once a resistant breed is discovered or bred, distributed and new fields replanted, “that’s a 20-year project,” Putnam said.

But it wasn’t all bad news for Florida agriculture from Florida’s agricultural commissioner.

He cited the early May announcement by Coke that it was committing $2 billion to the purchase of Florida oranges over the next 25 years, he said the industry will survive citrus greening.

“That tells me … they believe in the future” of Florida agriculture, Putnam said.

Among water issues facing the state, Putnam said he expects no relief in sight for the Appalachicola River

Of his own political future, Putnam said he has established a campaign account for his own re-election to the agricultural commission post. Once rumored himself to be a potential challenger to Gov. Rick Scott for the gubernatorial nomination, Putnam said he hasn’t hear of any challengers to Scott from the Republican side.

He said he expects Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater to be returning to office after the 2014 election.

“I certainly look forward to the entire team coming back,” he said.

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