MIAMI, Fla. - A farmer in Southwest Miami is going toe to toe with the Florida Department of Agriculture, after, he says, they took more than 4,000 citrus trees from his grove claiming they were infected with canker during a canker outbreak more than a decade ago.
According to him, testing revealed less than 10 of the trees were actually infected. Now he wants them to pay up.
For more than 40 years, 76 year-old Steven Hujber has tended to do his garden.
"It's a way of life, it's not a job," says Hujber.
Unlike his customers, he doesn't see plants.
"I see names, when I look in here I see names. That's Glen, that's Valencia Pride."
A Hungarian immigrant, Hujber came to the the U.S. in the 80's in hopes of pursuing the American dream.
"I didn't speak word of English I had never seen tropical plants," he says.
After a trip to a gardening store, he found his calling and a way to provide for his family.
"I learned not only about plants, but a business aspect as well," says Hujber.
He started a citrus grove and says his business nearly went under in the year 2000, after a canker outbreak.
Canker is a bacteria that causes unsightly lesions on fruit making it un-sellable.
The Florida department of Agriculture confiscated millions of citrus trees from residents and business owners, including Hujbers.
"It pretty much put us out, not completely, but our business dropped probably 70 percent," says Hujbers.
He has since started over planting flowers, mango and lychee trees.
Of the 4,000 taken, Hujber says he got a report showing less than 10 were found to be infected with canker.
In a statement to NewsChannel 5, the Florida Department of Agriculture says they are currently waiting for a trial date and will aggressively defend the state at trial.
Hujber says he has no plans to grow citrus again because of his age. Still he says he feels part of his family was taken from him and he wants something in return.
"Very much disappointed. I came from a communist country, it happened there I didn't expect it to happen here."
The department is still paying millions of dollars in class action lawsuits for taking trees that were not affected. Hujber was not part of that group.
A judge decided Hujber's claims should be heard in a separate case.
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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