BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. — Anger over their state’s governor vetoing a key citrus research funding bill marked the opening of the Florida Citrus Industry Annual Conference.

Florida citrus leaders query governor over research vetoIn late May, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a $2 million bill supporting research to protect the industry from citrus greening disease. During an invitation-only June 15 luncheon with growers, Scott acknowledged the industry’s disease problems but said he vetoed the bill over budget concerns.

Mike Sparks, executive vice president and chief executive officer of Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual, the conference’s sponsor, said growers are disappointed in the veto. During the meeting, Sparks reminded the governor of the economic importance of citrus to the state’s economy.

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

At citrus mutual’s June 15 annual meeting, growers heard about a citrus disease research and development trust fund Florida and other citrus states are working for in Congress. The program seeks $30 million for invasive pest and disease research.

John Gilliland, a consultant with the Washington, D.C.-based Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, said tariffs on imported citrus products would fund the bill.

“In this type of climate, it’s important to make sure we are looking under all stones and crafting legislation wisely, and do this in a way comfortable to the USDA and in a good way for the budget,” Gilliland said. “A lot of people talk about earmarks. Our bill is not an earmark.  We are protected against people who politically worry we’re spending money.”

During June 16 educational sessions, researchers gave updates on efforts to battle citrus greening.

The Florida Citrus Commission, which oversees the Bartow-based Florida Department of Citrus, met as a 12-member group for the last time.

In May, the governor signed of a bill redistricting the commission to nine seats and limiting future increases in box taxes.

During the meeting, commissioners voted to reduce box taxes by 2 cent 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.

At a June 16 luncheon, Randy Lierman, an investment manager with London-based Newton Capital Management Limited, told growers agricultural markets represent a big area of change in world markets. Droughts and rain in growing regions have strained supplies and created investment opportunities. He said investors are seeing returns buying crop protection firms.

Andrew Meadows, citrus mutual’s director of communications, said the conference drew strong grower participation. He said this year’s event attracted 650 participants, up from 575 last year.