I chatted on Oct. 22 with Richard Kinney, executive vice president of Florida Citrus Packers Inc., Lakeland.

9:05 a.m. Tom Karst: Hi Richard

 9:06 a.m. Richard Kinney:  Hello

9:07 a.m. Tom: Thanks for taking time in a busy week for a chat. You have just received news about the USDA rule regarding Florida fresh citrus shipments to other citrus states. What is your reaction to the rule - is it along the lines of what the industry expected?

9:08 a.m. Richard: Yes, USDA adopted the rule as proposed. It allows blemished fruit to be shipped interstate to all markets.

9:10 a.m. Tom: What will it mean for Florida shippers to have access to California and Texas again? What citrus varieties will be most affected by the access to those markets?

9:14 a.m. Richard: Indeed, the new rule opens up those markets. Before the quarantine, fresh shippers sent about 1.2 million cartons to citrus producing states, mostly tangerines, oranges and a few grapefruit. We don't know what to expect in shipments back to those markets.

9:16 a.m. Tom: Pulling back from that issue for a moment, tell our readers about your background in the industry. What was your path to Florida Citrus Packers and the produce industry?

9:19 a.m. Richard: I have a farm, am a grower and have a few cows, but studied political science in college. Went to work for a Senator then a Congressman. That background was one of the reasons I was hired by the Packers....being able to identify with growers and understanding the political process.

9:20 a.m. Tom: Are you growing citrus as well now?

9:21 a.m. Richard: Yes, I have 20 acres of oranges and am about to plant 15 acres of tangerines.

9:24 a.m. Tom: So much of what we hear about Florida now is about the disease pressure of canker and citrus greening. How do you see the Florida industry meeting those tough challenges in the years ahead? Are you optimistic for the future of the industry?

9:28 a.m. Richard: The industry has stepped up to the plate, has contributed a significant amount to research to find solutions. The state and feds are also engaged and our friends in Texas and California are being threatened so they too are focused. Our growers/shippers are more committed than ever. Citrus is what they do. They have a wonderful, healthy product that the consumer wants...we will figure out a way to continue in this business. Failure is not an option.

9:33 a.m. Tom: You talk about the political process....In regard to that, it seems that, for the most part, Florida and other citrus states are on the same page, or singing from the same hymn book, so to speak. How much work is involved in maintaining communication and good relationships with citrus leaders in other states? Was it difficult to convince organizations like CCM to support the science involved in the recent rule?

9:39 a.m. Richard: CCM and Sunkist have been consistent....true to their word, that if the science is sound and qualified....US citrus has never faced such significant challenges not just from diseases but we are high cost producers; we are coming together to address issues like never before, mostly through the grower groups.

9:40 a.m. Tom: Richard, I appreciate your time. One more question. What can buyers expect from the Florida fresh citrus crop this year? How does the crop compare with in size and characteristics compared with last year? Thanks again.

9:43 a.m. Richard: We expect to ship about 40 million cartons, a little more than last season, several million more cartons than last season due to the new rule. Grapefruit is 60% of the volume with oranges and tangerines splitting the remainder.

9:45 a.m. Tom: Very good. Thanks for your insight and hope we can do this again...