Florida group lobbies for pilot extensionA Florida trade group is lobbying to extend and expand a pilot program that allows some fresh fruits that require cold treatments into Florida.

The Florida Perishable Trades Coalition, a non-profit association created to increase trade in perishables through Florida’s airports and seaports, wants to extend a six-month U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved pilot that began Oct. 1, said Nelly Yunta, vice president of Miami-based Customized Brokers, a founding member of the coalition.

Other members include Crowley Maritime Corp., the parent company of Customized Brokers; Seaboard Marine; and Port Miami.

In the pilot, grapes and blueberries from Peru and Uruguay have been imported through Florida after undergoing cold treatments.

On a permanent basis, those and other commodities that require cold treatments are only allowed into Northeast ports on the East Coast. The coalition hopes to make Florida a permanent destination for such fruits, Yunta said.

In the meantime, the coalition is lobbying USDA to extend the pilot and to consider adding citrus and other commodities and Spain, South Africa and other countries to it.

“We hope it helps with congestion at ports up north in peak seasons,” Yunta said. “Also, bringing fruit directly into Florida can save money on freight and trucking.”

Under current regulations, some fruits are prohibited from being imported into Florida because of fears over pests and diseases infiltrating Florida citrus, Yunta said.

Fourteen loads have been brought in so far through the pilot, and Yunta is optimistic USDA will extend it.

“The pilot is going well — we haven’t had any issues,” she said. “And USDA feedback has been positive.”