(June 7) According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, citrus canker is now out of control in Florida and the agency has no choice but to stop all of Florida’s fresh citrus shipments to other citrus-producing states.

So as of the upcoming season Florida will not be allowed to ship any fresh citrus to Alabama, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Louisiana or Texas, as well as American Samoa, Guam, Northern Marinara Island, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

“It’s because we no longer believe citrus canker can be eradicated from the state of Florida,” USDA spokesman Jim Rogers said. “The hurricanes have just spread it too much. We wanted to be able to protect other citrus-producing states while still allowing the state of Florida to market citrus. And the way we did that was with these movement restrictions, which allow Florida to continue sending fresh fruit to 44 states, as long as they still meet our guidelines.”

INTERIM RULE ONLY

The agency said it would publish an interim rule sometime ahead of the fall harvest.

An interim rule goes into effect immediately when it’s published. A proposed rule, by contrast, required a designated period of public comment and review before it becomes law.

But, Rogers said, the USDA wanted the Florida industry to have a heads-up.

“We wanted to make sure the industry and the state and everyone else involved knew where we were going so they would have time to get ready,” he said.

Whether the interim rule will become permanent can’t be determined, Rogers said.

“We still have a comment period under the interim-rule process,” he said. “It’s just that it goes into effect before the public comment period. And that interim rule could be put down and never become a final rule.”

“Until the interim rule is published and people can really look at it, the way the new regulations are going to read, I don’t think we’re going to know,” he said.

CHALLENGE POSSIBLE

The state might fight the rule in court, said Charles Bronson, Florida’s agriculture commissioner.

“We felt like it was a little unfair to cut off fruit shipments to those states that have been a staple for some of the industry, especially those in the tangerine business,” he told the Miami Herald.

Rogers said he wasn’t prepared to comment on a possible challenge.

However, he said the USDA’s announced restriction isn’t the darkest alternative for Florida’s citrus industry.

“Bear in mind, there’s a whole range of ways we could have gone,” Rogers said. “We could have stopped all citrus from coming out of Florida, or we could have allowed Florida to move whatever they want wherever they want. So I like to think we found a way to allow them to continue to do business without posing a risk to any of the other citrus-producing states.”