Reconfigured educational sessions will help highlight the festivities as Florida citrus grower-shippers stay busy at the 2009 Florida Citrus Industry Annual Conference in Bonita Springs, Fla., June 24-26.

Preregistrations for the fifth year of the convention, which will be held at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point hotel and is sponsored by Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual, is reported to be at around 500, similar to last year's event, said Andrew Meadows, Florida Citrus Mutual's director of communications.

"That's a really good number considering the economy and the challenges people are facing out there," he said. "That's a testament to the value of this meeting."

Sessions change

Florida Citrus Mutual has reconfigured its educational sessions. Last year, all sessions focused on citrus greening and how the industry could battle the destructive disease.

This year, Florida Citrus Mutual plans to tackle that threat as well as other issues such as labor reform, an expected proposed rule allowing Florida-grown fruit to ship to other citrus-producing states and efforts to form federal citrus marketing orders.

Dan Richey, chief executive officer of Riverfront Groves LLC, Vero Beach, Fla., and Rebecca Bech, deputy administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Plant Protection and Quarantine program, should provide growers information on a USDA-proposed rule change.

The change would allow them to ship their fruit to other citrus-producing states such as California, Texas and Arizona.

Fearing the spread of the citrus canker disease, the USDA in 2006 quarantined Florida-grown citrus from shipping to other citrus growing regions.

End of quarantine discussion

Richey said citrus industry representatives recently met with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and requested an expedited review of the rule.

"We believe the risk is so infinitesimal that we should not be limited in our market access," Richey said.

Representatives with the Florida Department of Citrus, Lakeland, are scheduled to address industry-proposed federal marketing orders. The presentation will update growers on the complex topics of creating federal marketing orders to cover citrus research and promotion, Meadows said.

Florida Citrus Mutual plans to elect new officers during its June 24 annual meeting. The citrus commission also plans to hold its monthly meeting.

Other convention activities include fishing and golf tournaments and a silent auction to benefit the citrus industry's political action committee.

The convention's keynote speaker is University of Florida football coach Urban Meyer. Because many citrus growers are Gator fans, Meadows said the landing of the coach represents a real coup for the citrus group.