The cost of doing business for grower-shippers who sell fresh produce in other countries is going up.

Effective Oct. 1, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service will impose a $6 fee for each federal phytosanitary certificate issued, said Larry Hawkins, a Sacramento, Calif.-based spokesman for the USDA.

“In California, the counties will be collecting the fee on our behalf to cover the administrative costs of these phytos since we’re the people who issue them to the counties who then issue the certificates to the shippers,” he said.

The certificates are required for produce shipped to most other countries and some U.S. states, Hawkins said.

Only a few of the California grower-shippers contacted by The Packer were aware of the new fee. To help spread the word in California, a letter from Helene Wright, the federal agency’s state plant health director in California, was forwarded to county agricultural commissioners Aug. 25. Those commissioners are supposed to inform grower-shippers, Hawkins said.

“Every time I turn around someone’s coming in here and slapping a bill on my desk that I knew nothing about,” said Dan Spain, vice president of sales and marketing for Kingsburg Orchards, Kingsburg.

The APHIS fee will not greatly affect Kingsburg Orchards this year, he said, because the stone fruit season begins to wind down in the fall.

The fee, which will be in addition to state and county fees, will raise the cost of business for exporters.

“With 60% of our volume going overseas, that’s going to add up,” said Rich Matoian, executive director of the Western Pistachio Association, Fresno, Calif. “Every increase is going to have some effect on the bottom line.”

To ease the burden, the USDA has developed a new electronic system.

“We’re encouraging growers to use the phytosanitary certificate issuance and tracking system, which we call PCIT,” Hawkins said. “The per certificate fee is cut in half for those growers who request to have their certificates issued by the PCIT program.”

Tens of thousands of federal phytosanitary certificates are issued every year, he said.

“Depending on how many phyto certs a grower requires, using the PCIT program could get into some serious savings,” Hawkins said.

The savings will grow in the future. The fee will increase to $12 on Oct. 1, 2010. The increase for growers using the PCIT program will be to $6.

The new fee will not affect packinghouses with memoranda of understanding with county agricultural commissioners, Hawkins said. On-site inspectors will sign the electronically-generated certificates, he said.

The USDA has created two Web sites for the PCIT program, one for training, and a  log-in page.