(May 31) Florida agricultural leaders say they’ve made progress in persuading the federal government not to block shipments of the state’s citrus to other producing states.

Because of the citrus canker disease, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had considered quarantining the state from shipping grapefruit and oranges to California and Texas.

Fresh citrus packers and officials from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services met May 18 with Ron DeHaven, administrator of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, to discuss solutions on shipping canker-free citrus outside of Florida.

OPTIMISTIC

Florida deputy agricultural commissioner Craig Meyer said he was cautiously optimistic that the state and the USDA would be able to solve the issue.

He said the discussion helped clarify the two sides’ positions and generated the USDA’s exploration of ways to ship fresh fruit to citrus-producing states under what Meyer termed limited and strict shipping protocols.

Most of the state’s fresh groves are 40-50 miles away from canker-infected trees, Meyer said.

Meyer said the USDA recognized that argument’s validity and was working out inspection and certification requirements for fruit shipped out of canker-free production areas.

Florida agricultural officials had focused on regulating shipments of noninfected fruit grown outside of a 3,800-foot buffer zone surrounding infected groves.

Florida agriculture department and USDA staffers were working on developing a protocol to be presented to the USDA May 25.

TIMING

To help fresh movement, industry representatives said such a proposal should be implemented before the shipping season.

Dan Ritchey, chief executive officer of fresh grapefruit grower-shipper Riverfront Groves LLC, Vero Beach, Fla., said it can cost $700 more an acre to ship fresh versus processed. If growers can’t ship to certain areas for fresh, they would rather cut their costs, Ritchey said.

Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, Exeter, said the USDA shouldn’t make its decision until scientific questions regarding movement from a canker-infected region are settled.

“There’s a multitude of stakeholders concerned about this. It’s not just the citrus issue,” he said.

Richard Kinney, executive vice president of Florida Citrus Packers Inc., a Lakeland-based fresh packinghouse trade group, called the meeting productive.

“Everybody has made salient points in the process,” he said. “Our position from day one has been that we would like to keep all markets open with practical procedures.”