(UPDATED COVERAGE, July 2). A pilot quarantine insurance program for California citrus and avocado crops is the result of several years of cooperative effort between the produce industry and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The program is designed to mitigate the effect of a quarantine, beginning with the 2011 crops. The quarantine would have to be due to pest infestation or disease and be imposed by the department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service or the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Much of the credit for initiating the program goes to the staff at the Agriculture Department’s Risk Management Agency, said Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, Exeter.

“When they had areas of concern, they called and we worked it through,” he said. “I think it’s a welcome addition for us because we’re being invaded by invasive pests across this country. I hope our program is a benchmark for other commodities.”

The plan also received a warm reception at the California Avocado Commission, Irvine. Guy Whitney, director of industry relations, said he had not yet found the time to review the entire plan.

“From what I’ve seen so far, it looks like it’s a very good option for avocado growers, particularly in those areas where one would expect quarantines are not going to be uncommon,” he said.

Parts of San Diego and Imperial counties are currently under quarantine due to discoveries of the Asian citrus psyllid, a pest that can carry the bacterial citrus greening disease, huanglongbing, also known as HLB. The quarantine regions are within 50 miles of major Southern California growing areas for both commodities.

“The Asian citrus psyllid is dangerously close,” Whitney said. “But we have a number of pests that are of major concern. It just shows how bad things can go, and it can have serious financial impact on growers.”

Under the pilot program, growers will be reimbursed for actual production losses and mandated crop destruction. Program materials are to be issued by early September, with training for participating crop insurance companies to follow, according to the Department of Agriculture.

“There’s no incentive that would keep a grower from harvesting and moving his crop if he can,” Nelsen said. “So if a grower is forced to keep his fruit on the tree, the quality eventually suffers, he can’t sell it, and the crop then becomes eligible for coverage.”

Growers must have the insurance policy in place by Nov. 20. A list of crop insurance agents is available from the Risk Management Agency’s Website: http://www.rma.usda.gov/tools/agent.html. The agency administers the federal crop insurance program.

The outlook for the 2010 avocado crop is encouraging, but it may come too late for some growers because of the Nov. 20 quarantine insurance deadline this year for the 2011 crop. The problem is that the 2009 volume is expected to total about 160 million pounds, much lower than the industry’s pre-season forecast of 216 million pounds, Whitney said.

“I hope there are resources for growers to be able to purchase the quarantine crop insurance,” he said.