(May 21) A blockbuster rule that may propose year-round access of Mexican avocados to all 50 states was expected to be published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the Federal Register by May 24.

Dore Mobley, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said she could not divulge the content of the proposed rule but said it would be available for public display on May 21 and be published in the Federal Register on May 24.

Avocado industry members said the rule was not a surprise.

“We believe the rule will essentially propose expansion to 50 states for all months,” said Tom Bellamore, senior vice president and corporate counsel of the California Avocado Commission, Irvine.

However, he said he believes the USDA may take comments on the idea of delaying the addition of California, Hawaii and Florida to the shipment zone for Mexican hass because of the magnitude of the program and pest mitigation procedures.

Bellamore said the USDA may also take comments on how long the delay should be. He said the comment period for the proposed rule is expected to be 60 days.

Bob Lucy, salesman for Del Rey Avocado Co. Inc., Fallbrook, Calif., said the USDA should proceed with caution.

“If we hang on to California and Florida, that’s good, but I’m amazed that the USDA is rushing into this,” he said.

Dale McNiel, Washington, D.C.-based counsel for Mexican avocado growers, said that the proposed rule had left the Office of Management and Budget on May 20.

He speculated it will likely be followed by a 60- to 90-day comment period, and the final rule may be issued later in the year — likely after the election in November, he said.

“This will pave the way for long-term business relationships,” he said.

McNiel said the U.S. District Court in Fresno, Calif., continues to hear the legal challenge by the California Avocado Commission to a previous U.S. Department of Agriculture 2001 ruling allowing Mexican hass into 31 states for six months of the year, from Oct. 15 to April 15.

The judge in the case has been ill for much of the past year, but he recently asked for new briefs in the case and indicated he wants to resolve the case, McNiel said.

Bellamore said the court case could be resolved by this fall.