(July 30) Pushing back rulemaking by 15 days, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced July 27 it would provide more time for industry input on a controversial proposal that sets the conditions under which citrus fruit from canker-infested regions Florida can be shipped to non-citrus states.

The original comment period ended July 23, and the USDA extended that until Aug. 7. The proposed rule was published June 21.

Under the USDA’s rule, the agency would eliminate the requirement that the groves in which the fruit is produced be inspected and found free of canker.

Instead, the agency said it would require that fruit produced in the quarantined area be treated with a surface disinfectant treatment in a packinghouse operating under a compliance agreement, and that each lot of finished fruit be inspected at the packinghouse and found free of visible symptoms of citrus canker.

The USDA did leave in place the current prohibition on the movement of fruit from a quarantined area into commercial citrus-producing states.

Richard Kinney, executive vice president of Florida Citrus Packers Inc., Lakeland, Fla., said the USDA needs to finish its rulemaking by the start of the Florida season, which begins on or about Oct. 1.

“Any extension worries us, but again we hope that the rules will be in place on or before the season begins,” Kinney said.

Bob Blakely, director of grower relations for California Citrus Mutual, Exeter, Calif., said that the organization was working to submit comments by Aug. 7.

One of the concerns about the rule was USDA’s definition of a lot size for testing packed fruit for signs of citrus canker.

“It is not clearly defined how large a lot can be. We would like to see that tightened up,” he said.

What’s more, he said the industry has general concerns about the lack of canker testing in groves and the precedent the rule might set for other pests and commodities.