By Doug Ohlemeier, The Packer

(Jan. 24) FORT PIERCE, Fla. -- Managing, controlling and living with citrus canker and other diseases and issues challenging Florida's fresh citrus industry dominated discussions at the annual Indian River Citrus Seminar Jan. 23-24.

George Hamner Jr., president of Indian River Exchange Packers, Vero Beach, discussed packinghouse experiences with citrus canker after the U.S. Department of Agriculture in November ended preharvest grove inspections of Florida citrus.

"Sometimes you have to be careful for what you wish for," he said. "All we've done is shifted the responsibility. By shifting inspection to the packinghouse, little did we realize the difficulties we would face in inspection. As other states are worried about protecting their fruit, the rules and details got harder and harder. When we blend politics with science, there's no telling what will happen."

David Munyan, the USDA's Vero Beach-based deputy director of plant protection and quarantine, said the transition from last year's interim rule to the final rule has gone well with the industry experiencing only a few bumps.

"With the packinghouse inspections, we are finding a low prevalence of canker in the box," Munyan said. "These houses seem to be bringing in cleaner fruit in the Indian River area, where there seems to be more graders."


Growers heard about a developing industry issue: how to destroy abandoned citrus groves damaged by citrus canker.

In a panel discussion, Connie Riherd, an assistant director for plant industry with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Tallahassee, said the agriculture department is talking with citrus growers about the issue through a committee formed by Florida Citrus Mutual, the state's largest citrus growers group.

Although a plan is being developed to seek state or federal funding for removal of the groves remains popular with Indian River region growers, who have been hit hard by citrus canker spread by the 2004 and 2005 hurricanes, growers in other parts of the state aren't as interested in acting, panel participants said.

Mike Sparks, citrus mutual's executive vice president and chief executive officer, said the industry is seeking a buy-in from all of the state's growers.

"This is a huge endeavor that would require state or federal funding," he said. "To advance this forward, we will have to have huge state support."

Doug Bournique, executive vice president of the Indian River Citrus League, Vero Beach, said he was impressed by the high turnout of participants and exhibitors, especially during a slower economic time and when diseases have put a lot of the citrus industry on hold.

"With the downturn in the industry, the big hitters were here," he said. "It's good to see all the major companies here."

The trade show featured production suppliers and services as well as samples of new varieties of grapefruit and oranges being developed by breeders with the USDA's Fort Pierce horticultural research center and the University of Florida's Citrus Research Education Center at Lake Alfred.

Bournique told attendees that some new early season sweet grapefruit varieties hold great promise.

This year's conference saw an attendance of 1,100, similar to last year's.

David Stewart, chief executive officer of Citrus Energy LLC, spoke about the future of ethanol at the conference's annual Jan. 22 banquet, which also saw high attendance, Bournique said.