(June 13) BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. — Under a cloud of discouraging news from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, leaders of the Sunshine State’s citrus industry discussed shipping their fresh fruit to non-producing states.

Members of Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual, the largest citrus producing state grower’s group, gathered in Bonita Springs June 7-9 for the organization’s second annual industry conference to talk about citrus canker, immigration reform, marketing box tax assessments and other issues.

Shippers were scrambling to work with political leaders after the USDA the day before the meeting announced it planned to prohibit the state from shipping to other citrus-producing states.

“We hate to lose any more markets,” said Raphord Farrington, vice president of Ben Hill Griffin Inc., Frostproof. “Of course, we understand California, Texas and Arizona’s positions. We’re just trying to hold onto our markets.”

Florida agriculture commissioner Charles Bronson told attendees the department will work with the USDA to keep domestic markets open for Florida citrus.

“I don’t know of an industry that has been under more fire than the citrus industry,” he said. “I feel your angst.”

Bronson said rule makers need to make quarantine decision according to science.

“We want to make sure our industry comes out of this and can compete anywhere around the world,” he said.

This year’s convention drew 340 people, not including family members, up from last year’s 287, said J.A. “Jay” Clark III, Florida Citrus Mutual’s interim chief executive officer and owner of Clark Farms Inc., Wauchula, Fla.

He said educational sessions on timely industry topics helped attract more interest.

Greg Nelson, president of DNE World Fruit Sales, Fort Pierce, characterized the meeting as positive.

“We have to air out these issues with all of these disease pressures,” he said.

In educational sessions on citrus canker and greening diseases, Jim Graham, a soil microbiologist with the University of Florida Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences’ Citrus Research Education Center in Lake Alfred, told growers what scientists had predicted with canker has happened.

He said up to 75% of the state’s citrus acreage is within five miles of a canker find.

“Red grapefruit is highly susceptible to canker,” Graham said. “The case with red grapefruit is not looking particularly promising where the disease is spreading and dynamic.”

Florida Citrus Mutual board members June 7 passed resolutions urging the Florida Citrus Commission to delay increasing its proposed per-box citrus assessments that fund the Florida Department of Citrus’s marketing programs.

The growers group recommended the commission reschedule its June 21 vote to mid-July.