(Dec. 17) Florida citrus growers are being asked to decide whether to continue a box tax that generates funds for citrus research in the Sunshine State.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson plans a referendum in January to determine whether the Citrus Production Marketing Order will continue for another six years.

Ballots will be mailed to those that produce and market citrus in early January. The ballots must be returned by Jan. 31.

Under Florida law, a majority of growers must approve the marketing order for it to be renewed for an additional six years.

The referendum was originally implemented and passed in 1991. It was renewed in 1997. If it passes again, the marketing order will be in effect through 2009-10.

The initial order set the assessment at half-cent per box, which was increased to three-fourths cents per box in 1997. By law, it cannot exceed 1 cent per box.

Since its inception, the program has generated $18 million that has been used on research to eradicate citrus pests and diseases, among other projects.

Florida growers are also assessed 15-25-cents per box to fund the Florida Department of Citrus, the state's marketing agent for citrus products.