(April 20) Florida agricultural leaders are working to keep canker-free fresh citrus moving to other states.

Florida agriculture commissioner Charles Bronson on April 11 wrote to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, requesting the USDA temporarily allow shipments of uninfected citrus to non-producing states. The citrus, however, must be certified free of the disease within 60 days of harvest.

Bronson wrote that those in the Florida produce industry need to make plans for the 2006-07 season.

Bronson asked Johanns to assign Florida additional USDA inspectors to help the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services with fresh packinghouse inspections.

He cited an April 6 USDA pest risk assessment study that showed noninfected fruit is not a factor in the spread of the disease.

Doug Bournique, executive vice president of the Indian River Citrus League, Vero Beach, Fla., a fresh grapefruit shipping region, said the study supports fresh Florida citrus shipments.

“It’s good to see the studies are showing the risk is not there,” Bournique said. “It will be good for other citrus-producing states and countries to know that.”

Mark Hanks, vice president of North American sales and marketing for DNE World Fruit Sales, Fort Pierce, Fla., said the commissioner’s move would protect the state’s fresh industry.

David Mixon, senior vice president of Vero Beach-based Seald Sweet International, said Florida remains a key part of the global citrus deal.

“In our opinion, the obvious thing is to protect all citrus producing regions,” he said. “The science backs up his (Bronson’s) statements.”