Mutual instrumental in monetary relief for growers

By Mike Sparks

Sparks

I’d like to provide you with a thumbnail review of Florida Citrus Mutual’s key activities. In the past 24 months, the organization has been instrumental in securing almost $1 billion in aid for Florida’s citrus growers, $400 million of that coming in the 2005-06 season.

At Mutual, our challenge is to seek innovative, effective means to anticipate and address obstacles thrown at the Florida citrus industry. For despite citrus canker and greening, immigration reform, hurricane season, and the anti-dumping petition, Florida growers—working in tandem with Mutual—continue to persevere and provide a positive impact on our state’s economy.

The past season began shortly before Hurricane Wilma ripped through south Florida, including two of the state’s largest citrus-producing counties, Collier and Hendry, leaving more than $180 million in crop loss damages alone. Mutual worked closely with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns to create a $100 million hurricane disaster program.

In January, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced plans to end the Citrus Canker Eradication Program. Mutual worked with Johanns to ensure that all growers who lost acreage prior to the elimination of the program would be fully compensated. As a result, he announced the allocation of $300 million for canker compensation. A USDA rule allowing compensation for commercial citrus nurseries was announced in June. The June funding coincided with the release of a USDA rule allowing compensation for commercial citrus nurseries.

This past season also saw immigration reform in the federal spotlight. When the U.S. House of Representatives passed enforcement-only legislation that Mutual and fellow agricultural associations realized would be devastating to fruit and vegetable producers, we initiated a partnership with the U.S. Senate to craft a comprehensive, bipartisan bill. This new bill includes border enforcement, guest worker programs, and a plan to deal with current undocumented workers.

Mutual further continued to work on the growers’ behalf to maintain the tariff on foreign juice. The group also was involved with the anti-dumping petition against Brazilian processors. During the past year, the International Trade Commission ruled that dumping had occurred, resulting in duties levied against processors named in the petition.

Lastly, the year was one of internal transition for Mutual. Andy LaVigne resigned from his position as executive vice president and chief executive officer in February, and board member Jay Clark was appointed interim chief executive. I was delighted to be named LaVigne’s permanent successor in June. I look forward to working with our board and our staff to position Mutual effectively to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Feel free to contact our offices with questions or comments, and I thank you for the opportunity to serve. CVM