(Jan. 19, POSTED 5:00 p.m. CST) FOWLER, Calif. — California agriculture leaders and a group of bi-partisan lawmakers held a series of news conferences Jan. 19 to spread the word that help is on its way for the state’s crippled citrus industry.

At the first news conference, taking place at Bee Sweet Citrus Inc., Joel Nelsen, president of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, said the support from federal, state and county officials was unprecedented. He said all 58 members of the California Congressional delegation co-authored a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns calling for the immediate approval of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s request for a federal disaster declaration.

Nelsen said the federal declaration requires crop loss totals. He said Citrus Mutual committed to providing those figures to state and federal officials by Tuesday.

Nelsen said the collective efforts have focused on more than citrus growers, shippers and packers. He said farm workers and the communities that will suffer financially because of the freeze are receiving equal attention.

Assemblywoman Nicole Parra and State Sen. Abel Maldonado, Democrats who chair the agriculture committees of their respective chambers, said they had introduced legislation designed to assist citrus field and packinghouse workers. The proposed law would provide unemployment benefits to workers who because of the freeze are working less than 40 hours a week.

Nelsen said at least 12,000 citrus industry workers will be affected by the freeze.

Philip LaBue, chairman of Citrus Mutual’s board of directors and co-owner of LaBue Bros. Inc., Lindsay, said, “Working together, we shall protect and salvage what will again be a vibrant industry.”

Doug Mosebar, president of the Sacramento-based California Farm Bureau Federation, said the freezes of 1990 and 1998 taught the industry lessons. He said that’s why everyone hit the ground running, even before the 2007 freeze was over.

Others attending the news conference were Republican Assembly members Mike Villines, William Maze and Tom Berryhill and Democrat Juan Arambula.

The other two news conferences were held in Watsonville and Bakersfield.