Hoping to regain access to markets closed by a federal quarantine, Florida citrus growers are waiting for a U.S. Department of Agriculture rule change that could allow them to ship their fruit to Arizona, California and Texas.

After the spread of the citrus canker disease, the USDA’s Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service in 2006 prohibited Florida fresh shipments to other citrus-producing states such as California, Texas and Arizona.

Florida officials began pushing to change the rules after USDA Agricultural Research Service studies showed that properly commercially packed fruit infected with citrus canker isn’t likely to spread the plant disease.

Florida industry officials said they expect USDA to issue a new rule in June. The draft rule on the quarantine that involves Florida-grown grapefruit and oranges is subject to industry comment before the USDA makes a decision on the issue.

Before the quarantine, Florida shipped up to 1.5 million cartons of mostly oranges and tangerines to the citrus-producing states, said Richard Kinney, executive vice president of the Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Packers Inc.

“The limited market access under current regulations is putting the entire Florida fresh citrus industry at risk,” said Mike Sparks, executive vice president and chief executive officer of Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual, in a statement. 

Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, Exeter, said that California plans to comment and has a team of its scientists reviewing the research.

Nelsen said he wants to protect his state’s fruit and that he is concerned about possible ramifications with California’s trading partners.

“We will have to see how it could impact our ability to export and whether offshore imports will be allowed into the country under the same set of rules,” Nelsen said.

Dan Richey, chief executive officer of Riverfront Groves LLC, Vero Beach, Fla., agreed with Nelsen that international aspects are challenging.

“There could be a possibility that New Zealand, Australia and Europe could say to Californians that ‘because you have fruit from Florida that doesn’t meet the requirements we have, you can’t ship any fruit to us,’” Richey said. “That would be a real stretch from them to suggest that, but we have to be sensitive. We talk with our counterparts from California on a regular basis and are trying to work this out together and not in adversarial way.”

Ray Prewett, president of Mission-based Texas Citrus Mutual, said their industry wants to review the information before commenting.