BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. — The Florida Citrus Industry Annual Conference opened with reaction to a gubernatorial veto of legislation funding citrus disease research.

Florida citrus industry responds to greening research vetoIn late May, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a $2 million bill supporting research to protect the industry from citrus greening disease. Last year, the previous governor, Charlie Crist, also vetoed a bill giving the Citrus Research and Development Foundation Inc., Lake Alfred, $1 million.

During a June 15 luncheon with growers Scott acknowledged the industry’s disease problems and said citrus remains an important part of Florida. He fielded questions about his veto.

“I do care about greening,” Scott said. “I want to make sure we aren’t spending money we don’t need to. If there are things we have to fix on that, we will.”

Mike Sparks, executive vice president and chief executive officer of conference sponsor Florida Citrus Mutual, Lakeland, said growers are disappointed by the veto, but the group has established a rapport with the governor’s staff.

“We need to work with your staff and find sources for matching dollars,” Sparks said. “Immigration (reform) and E-Verify for agriculture are critical. We’ll have crops that won’t be harvested (if those go through).”

A Florida Citrus Commission meeting the same day included 12 members for the last time. The commission, which oversees the Bartow-based Florida Department of Citrus, is moving to a nine-member format.

Scott signed a bill May 26 reforming the commission. Among other things, Senate Bill 2122 restricts box tax rate increases and reduces the number of commissioner districts.

During the meeting, commissioners approved reducing box taxes by 2 cents a box across all varieties. Per-box taxes for fresh grapefruit dropped from 36 cents to 34 cents, 16 cents to 14 cents a box for specialty fruit such as tangerines, and 7 cents to 5 cents for fresh oranges.

The conference continues June 16-17.