Plaquemines citrus growers concerned about canker - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Plaquemines citrus growers concerned about canker

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Plaquemines Parish, La. - Ricky Becnel remembers the time his family lost their entire citrus crop.

"In '89, we experienced 10 degrees here," he says. "So everything was completely frozen that we had to put the bulldozer and start back there from scratch."

The trees planted after the 1989 freeze are now full of fruit 24 years later.

Now there's a new threat. The U.S. Department of Agriculture found citrus canker on trees in Orleans and Jefferson parishes.

"We had four original samples that were in the City Park area, within a mile," says Mike Strain, Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture. "We found it as far as 11 miles out now and what we have, we have state and federal personnel who are looking for the disease."

Citrus canker hasn't been seen in Louisiana since 1940.

The bacterial disease causes leaves to fall off and blemishes to appear on the fruit. Severely infected trees may stop producing citrus.

The highly-contagious disease is a big problem in Florida, where trees with canker have to be burned.

Becnel believes the citrus canker came from Florida, perhaps a tree someone brought back with them from vacation. Bringing a citrus tree from another state into Louisiana is illegal.

"You cannot transport a citrus tree into our state for the simple reason of insects, different types of diseases such as this, that is where the problem starts," says Becnel.

So far, the canker hasn't been spotted in Plaquemines Parish and nurseries like Becnel's are closely watching their citrus trees. He says the problem could still be spreading though, and people with citrus trees in their yards need to check them.

"It's going to look like a bunch of polka dots and if they have that problem, don't fool with it," says Becnel. "Contact the state and USDA guys, let them come in, make that determination and get rid of the problem."

Through cold winters and countless storms, Becnel's nursery survived.

He hopes to keep citrus canker out of here, so the business will thrive for generations to come.

If you believe your citrus trees show signs of canker, do not transport any part of the plant. Call Bill Spitzer with USDA at (225) 298-5410 or the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry at (225) 952-8100.

The LSU Ag Center has more information on citrus canker.

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