US agriculture secretary Mike Johanns has announced an additional US$53.75m in emergency funding to eradicate citrus canker in Florida.

"This critical funding from USDA (the US Department of Agriculture) will help accelerate eradication activities and keep citrus canker from spreading in Florida," said Johanns. "USDA is providing these funds to help Florida protect the health of the citrus industry, which has been placed at greater risk by a series of hurricanes that have spread the wind-borne disease."

Since October 1995, when citrus canker was first detected in Miami, the USDA and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) have been working to eradicate the disease. In total, the USDA has provided more than $378.6m in funding to support eradication activities. In addition, the President's fiscal year 2006 budget calls for $42.6m in citrus canker funding. This latest infusion of emergency money will support tree removal and commercial grove surveillance.

A series of hurricanes in 2004 decimated Florida's citrus producing areas, causing significant canker spread and $500m in damage to the Florida citrus industry. This pattern of increased hurricane activity has continued, and the effects became evident during the spring and summer 2005 growing season when 269 new citrus canker infections were detected in commercial citrus groves. Florida's citrus industry represents 77% of US citrus production.

Citrus canker is a rapidly spreading, highly contagious bacterial disease that causes fruit to drop prematurely. In addition, citrus canker lesions make infected fruit unmarketable. Because there is no chemical cure or treatment for citrus canker in Florida, the only way to eradicate the disease is to destroy all infected or exposed trees.