(Dec. 20) In the wake of a Florida judge’s refusal to block Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ testing and certification program for California citrus sent to the Eastern state, the California Department of Food and Agriculture and shippers are preparing — reluctantly — to meet the requirements.

“We’ll work with anyone in the citrus industry who wishes to meet the regulations to ship to Florida,” said Steve Lyle, the California agency’s director of public affairs.

After a series of exchanges in recent weeks between the two state agencies, Florida modified its requirement to require testing for the fungus, Septoria citri, in packinghouses. The initial program included testing in groves.

Under the modified demands, packinghouses must be registered with the California Department of Agriculture, which would supply its Florida counterpart a list of registered houses.

No California packinghouse had been registered to ship citrus to Florida as of Dec. 19, Lyle said. The program went into effect Dec. 7.

South Korea is the only other government to require testing for septoria.

Because LoBue Bros. Inc., Lindsay, Calif., exports substantial volume to South Korea, Florida’s demands will require few changes for them, said general manager Tom Wollenman.

“We have the protocols in place,” he said.

But even that won’t ensure that all California citrus in Florida grocery stores has been certified, Wollenman said.

“For instance, we ship to a Wal-Mart distribution center in Atlanta, and that fruit can go in a million different directions, including into Florida,” Wollenman said.

California Citrus Mutual, Exeter, and four California grower-shippers — Sunkist Growers Inc., Sherman Oaks; Corona College Heights Orange and Lemon Association, Riverside; and, Pro Citrus Network Inc., Visalia — had asked the court to issue a temporary restraining order against the Florida agency. The judge denied that request at a Dec. 18 hearing.

“We’re going to explore other administrative and legal remedies, but we’ll participate in the rule-making process to formalize the Florida directive,” said Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual.

Sunkist Growers has been shipping citrus to Florida since the restrictions went into effect Dec. 7, but the fruit was Arizona-grown, said Mike Wootton, senior vice president for corporate relations and administration. Arizona only has a couple more weeks of shipping capacity this season, he said.

A limited number of Sunkist’s California navel packinghouses that have been shipping to South Korea are amending their documentation to qualify for shipments to Florida, he said.

“We’re going to be looking at what we have to do to ship into the marketplace, but we will do it under protest and look at what other options are available to us to try to effectuate a reversal of this ridiculous policy,” Wootton said.