BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. — Industry opposition to increasing Florida citrus box taxes has blocked efforts to expand domestic fresh promotions.

The Florida Department of Citrus, Lakeland, proposed increasing growers’ box taxes on fresh oranges from 11 cents per box to 14 cents per box and from 10 cents a box to 16 cents for fresh specialty fruit such as tangerines.

Fresh grapefruit taxes were set to remain at 35 cents a box.

Proposed Florida citrus box tax hike fails
Doug Ohlemeier

Richard Kinney (left), executive vice president of Florida Citrus Packers Inc., Lakeland, talks with Tom Jerkins, vice president and general manager of Blue Goose Growers LLC, Fort Pierce, Fla., and an officer of Florida Citrus Mutual, during the citrus organization’s yearly convention in Bonita Springs, Fla., June 24. Because of industry pressure, the Florida Department of Citrus has nixed the idea of raising box tax rates for fresh oranges and tangerines.

Though some industry groups had initially supported the increase, Florida Citrus Packers Inc., Lakeland, and the Indian River Citrus League, Vero Beach, opposed the proposed hike.

“While the FDOC marketing staff presented a qualified joint orange/tangerine retail promotion program utilizing radio, TV and point-of-sale material, we prefer promoting directly with the trade, using limited funds in a more targeted and specific way especially regarding price structures,” said Richard Kinney, Florida Citrus Packers’ executive vice president.

Karen Mathis, the department’s public relations director, said the refusal to increase rates keeps the agency’s budget at similar levels and unable to afford investing in additional retail promotions.

The department's 2009-10 budget proposal is $61.7 million compared $62 million for 2008-09. The agency plans to spend $1.2 million on fresh fruit and grapefruit juice advertising, 46% less than the $2.3 million it spent the previous year.

Peter Chaires, Florida Citrus Packers’ director of strategic management and business development and executive director of the industry’s New Varieties Development & Management Corp., said the group’s decision to keep rates at current levels was more a matter of keeping taxes down and allowing the industry to invest its own money to pursue programs developing new varieties and promoting fresh-squeezed orange juice at retail.

Members of the industry are in Bonita Springs June 24-26 for the 2009 Florida Citrus Industry Annual Conference.