Andrews Nursery to stay open

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By Mark Scohier, Staff writer

Andrews Nursery, Florida's only state-run nursery, won't be closing down any time soon, though there will be some changes to the operation.

State Rep. Halsey Beshears (R - District 7) filed a bill in February aimed at closing the establishment, though it was met with some opposition from Florida timber growers. The bill died May 3.

Florida Forestry Association President Lyntetta Usher Griner, of Chiefland, said she's glad to hear the nursery, which has been in operation for more than 50 years, will stay open.

"It's important, personally, and it's important for the timber industry as a whole," she said last week, adding that the nursery specializes in a particular species of pine tree important to areas of south Florida.

"The bill didn't die," said Beshears in a phone interview May 24. "The state agency begged us not to press it." 

And legislators didn't, but Beshears said the Florida Forest Service, the agency that runs the nursery, agreed to adjust the nursery's prices and not sell to private growers.

The bill will be reintroduced at a later time if the agreement isn't followed. "If the governor finds out (about the bill), there's no way it doesn't happen," Beshears said.

"The state needs to cut funds where it can. It doesn't need to be involved with private business," he said, adding that Andrews has put several nurseries, unable to compete with the nursery's low prices, out of business.

"It's, effectively, corporate welfare," he said.

In addition to the new requirements, Beshears said the nursery, which employs nine full-time workers and dozens of prisoners, will have an added focus on citrus research and is set to receive about $500,000 in additional funds to accomplish this.

The potential for research, according to Beshears, is the nursery's strength.

Ben Rossen, a plant scientist working at the nursery's citrus center, said the area is perfect for citrus research and preservation because it's far away from the state's citrus belt.

The two biggest threats to citrus now are canker and greening, two diseases caused by bacteria. The citrus portion of Andrew's nursery acts mostly as a "clonal protection program," he said, keeping various species of citrus out of harm's way.

Rossen said the state plans to add about 95,000 square feet to what already exists, with construction beginning in September.