Statewide Citrus Quarantine and Hurricane Disaster Programs

STATUS OF FUNDING AND PAYMENT REPORTING

The USDA anticipates that the funds recently appropriated to the USDA for canker payments (lost tree and lost production income payments) totaling Three Hundred Million Dollars will fund claims through September 10, 2005. At this time, all applications to owners for canker payments have been released, and the USDA is not issuing any more until such applications are received and filed with USDA.

It is our understanding that the USDA is issuing Form 1099’s for the lost production income payments, but we have been advised there will be no additional reporting by the USDA for lost tree payments. If any applicants receive information to the contrary, we request that you please bring it to our attention.

STATEWIDE CITRUS QUARANTINE

There is speculation that the USDA’s decision to end the eradication effort in exchange for the Citrus Health Response Plan may lead to Florida fruit being kept out of citrus producing states (Texas, Arizona and California) and, in a worst case scenario, may even lead to the inability to ship citrus to any domestic markets. However, it is strongly believed that a resolution is in the works to resolve these issues for the upcoming season.

According to a recent article published in the Palm Beach Post, citrus industry executives and officials with the Florida Department of Plant Industry will be in Washington, D.C. this coming Thursday “hoping to convince the USDA that shipping asymptomatic fruit to other citrus producing states is safe.” The USDA has published a pest risk assessment code that addresses the shipment of citrus fruit from diseased areas. According to the article, California has expressed concern with this pest risk assessment code and has asked for an extended comment period. Those going to Washington, D.C. next week in support of the pest risk assessment code intend to ask the USDA to make an interim ruling in favor of Florida growers, permitting the continued shipment of citrus fruit in the meantime. Attached below is the article referenced above, along with a similar article that was published in the Fort Pierce Tribune. We will continue to keep you informed of development in this area.

Lobbyist’s mission is to save Florida’s citrus

Palm Beach Post 5/12/06

VERO BEACH — When Dan Richey heads off to Washington D.C. to meet with the

U.S. Department of Agriculture next week, he will not only be protecting his business interests, he’ll be trying to save the entire Florida citrus industry.

“Florida has to maintain and have access to all its current available markets,” said Richey, owner of the Vero Beach-based Riverfront Packing Co.

Doug Bournique, executive director of the Vero Beach-based Indian River Citrus League, a citrus lobbying organization for the Indian River region, stands behind Richey’s efforts. “The bureaucrats up there see people like me all the time but when you have someone that is a grower and a packer directly affected by all this, that’s much more effective,” Bournique said.

Richey, other citrus industry executives and officials with the Florida Department of Plant Industry will be making a trip to the nation’s capital Thursday hoping to convince the USDA that shipping asymptomatic fruit to other citrus producing states is safe. “All the facts come to the conclusion that shipping asymptomatic fruit is not a pathway to canker,” Richey said. “I feel confident that the scientists pest risk assessment on asymptomatic fruit is accurate.”

Richey is speaking about a code of federal regulations published by the USDA that addresses the shipping of citrus fruit from disease infected areas during the next season. The pest risk assessment code addresses how citrus fruit can be shipped from all citrus producing regions. Information is collected from growers and processors across the nation.

But growers in California have expressed concerns over Florida shipments, asking the USDA to extend their commenting period before they make a decision approving or banning the shipment of asymptomatic fruit from Florida into their state.

Liz Compton, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said this week that the USDA may soon announce a statewide citrus quarantine, which would prohibit the shipment of Florida citrus products to other citrus-producing states. USDA officials in Washington D.C. confirmed those discussions Wednesday. Richey and his group will ask the USDA to make an interim ruling in favor of Florida growers, allowing them to ship fruit to all markets while California formulates their comments. Other citrus producing regions include California, Texas, Arizona, Louisiana and Alabama.

“This is such a complex issue,” said Richey, who has traveled twice this year to California to lobby growers. “This is where the rubber hits the road.”

Most citrus producing counties on the East Coast of Florida, including St. Lucie, Martin and Indian River counties, have the bacterial disease canker. Greening, which causes lopsided bitter fruit, and canker, are two citrus diseases plaguing growers statewide.

Containment of the diseases failed and in January the USDA announced it would no longer fund the most common method of fighting the disease: Destroying all citrus trees within a 1,900-foot radius of an infected tree.

Bobby Sexton, president of Oslo Citrus Growers Association, whose growers have 2,000 acres on the Treasure Coast, said the industry is in a difficult position having to wait for a federal decision.

“I am going to let them (USDA) do their jobs first,” Sexton said. “When they come out with a ruling, I’ll respond then.”

Other growers were more vocal about the USDA allowing the region to ship asymptomatic fruit to all markets.

“This has a large economic impact and we need to keep all our markets available to us,” said Scott Hurley, vice president of Becker Indian River Fruit Co. “Think about how this will affect our gift fruit, and the shipping of that.”

Two years of hurricanes and canker has already taken its toll on some local citrus producing companies. Gracewood Fruit Co., founded in 1938, announced Tuesday that it would close its gift-fruit operations.

TCPalm: Local News

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