FORT PIERCE, Fla. — Grapefruit shippers want Japan — one of the largest U.S. grapefruit customers — to accept the same protocols that allow citrus growers to ship asymptomatic fruit domestically.

After Florida’s citrus industry last fall convinced the U.S. Department of Agriculture to lift restrictions it placed on shipments of Florida fruit to other citrus-producing states, Dan Richey, chief executive officer of Riverfront Groves LLC, Vero Beach, said the industry is now working to persuade Japan to change its import standards.

Diseases, market access key issues at citrus show

Doug Ohlemeier

Michel Sallin (left), president and chief executive officer of IMG Citrus Inc., Vero Beach, Fla., and Quentin Roe, president of Wm. G. Roe & Sons Inc., Winter Haven, Fla., taste citrus varieties at the Jan. 27 Florida Citrus Show in Fort Pierce. At the show, growers heard the latest on export issues and how the industry is investing in research to fight devastating diseases.

“Domestic shippers have all the freedom they need to ship around the U.S. with virtually no restrictions,” Richey said on Jan. 27 at the second annual Florida Citrus Show. “On other hand, the grapefruit market, which primarily operates in the international arena, is still hog-tied with some international access issues that are different in each country. The next step is to convince Korea, Japan and the European Union to allow us to ship fruits to their markets the same way we are allowed to ship fruit to U.S. customers.”

Richey said the issue is expected to be a trade negotiators’ priority in bilateral trade meetings with Japan scheduled for Feb. 23-26.

On the war against citrus diseases, Mike Sparks, executive vice president and chief executive officer of Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual, updated growers on what the industry is doing to combat the citrus greening and canker diseases.

Through increased box taxes that fund the Citrus Research and Development Foundation Inc., the industry has funded $26 million in research projects.

“You might say the new foundation is the old box tax on steroids,” Sparks said. “It will really take it to the next level in protecting intellectual property and negotiating commercialization issues. We need to get the research in the groves. Not in a published paper, but in the back of a tractor and to move the process forward.”

The foundation should reduce the strain on the Florida Citrus Commission which up until the foundation’s 2009 creation spent marketing funds on research projects, Sparks said.

Brantley Schirard Sr., chief executive officer of Schirard Citrus Inc. and chairman of the Indian River Citrus League, Vero Beach, said the region escaped serious damage from the long cold spell that struck Florida in early and mid-January.

“We were very fortunate with what we experienced around here compared to vegetable growers and those on the other side of Highway 27 which experienced damage and heavy defoliation and ice on fruit on many of the properties,” he said.

“Midway through the cold snap, when we had the chance of being hurt very badly, the winds changed and we had cloud cover. If you had the experience some have had fighting freezes, then you realize things were happening to our benefit and they did. Will recover from this and we have an opportunity here to harvest some fine fruit.”

Mike Yetter, director of international marketing with the Florida Department of Citrus, Bartow, said Florida fresh grapefruit at the retail level has seen an increase in sales during the last years.

However, because of tighter supplies and higher prices, data from the last four and 12-week periods show a decline, he said.

Exports, however, remain a bright spot.

“The percentage of fresh product we are shipping into export markets has been increasing over time,” Yetter said. “It’s the simple law of economics. The Japanese and European consumers are willing to pay a little more than the American consumers.”

The Jan. 27-28 show, which used to be called the Indian River Citrus Seminar, was co-sponsored by the citrus league and held at the Havert L. Fenn Center.

It  attracted up to 700 participants, a little higher attendance than last year’s show, sponsors say.