Florida ordered to pay $1.2m for killing 160,000 citrus trees

The state of Florida has been fined $1.2m for killing more than 160,000 citrus trees, according to a recent court ruling.

A jury in Orlando last week decided against the Florida Department of Agriculture, awarding the sum to the owner of a commerical nursery after it destroyed the trees in the early 2000s in an attempt to stop diseases spreading.

Gary Mahon, owner of Pokey’s Lake Gem Citrus Nursery in Zellwood, Florida, will receive the money after more than 160,000 of his citrus plants were killed in an effort to stop citrus greening.

Greening – and another disease, citrus canker – are increasing threats to Florida’s massive fruit industry.

Trees that are infected with citrus greening produce fruits that are green, misshapen, and bitter. The disease can eventually kill infected trees, though it is harmless to humans.

Citrus canker can cause the leaves and fruit on citrus trees to drop prematurely and create unappealing lesions on the fruit. The lesions leak bacterial cells that can spread to other trees by wind, rain, or contaminated equipment, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

The Department of Agriculture had argued Mahon did not deserve compensation since he could have avoided his losses by moving his citrus plants into greenhouses. Mahon’s attorneys disputed that interpretation of the law.

The Florida department intends to appeal the result.

In 2008, Florida lawmakers passed legislation requiring citrus plant growers to sell or destroy plants not grown in greenhouses to protect the state’s citrus industry from citrus greening.

“While the Florida Legislature and Department of Agriculture meant well by passing and enforcing this law, it had a catastrophic impact on citrus nursery growers,” Alexander Clem, Mahon’s attorney, told the Associated Press.

“Our client fought for years to get justice for the thousands-upon-thousands of plants he was forced to destroy, and we are thrilled he will be compensated and can move on with his life.”

AP contributed to this story