October 9, 2013

CCM Clarifies Response to AB 571 Veto

The very first navel orange tree was planted in Riverside over 120 years ago, and today, Californians enjoy a myriad of citrus varieties year round. Over 85% of the U.S. fresh citrus crop is produced in California, and brand names such as Sunkist and Cuties are household names throughout the world. But this iconic California industry, according to California Citrus Mutual (CCM) today, has been left for destruction as a result of Governor Brown’s veto of Assembly Bill (AB) 571.

In a follow-up statement to the one issued on October 7 (and reported on CaliforniaAg Today), CCM President Joel Nelsonreports, “I believe the Governor was not accurately informed about the industry’s efforts to partner with his Administration.”

As background, the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP) is an invasive and relentless insect that can carry a deadly and incurable citrus plant disease called Huanglongbing (HLB) that has become endemic in Southern California, where the number of citrus trees in backyards is greater than in commercial production in the entire state.

In Florida, the disease has caused significant financial losses for both the industry and the state economy. California citrus growers knew a proactive approach was necessary to prevent the same disastrous outcome in California. In 2009, industry leaders designed a program funded through grower assessments to stop the ACP. Over four years, growers have assessed themselves $60 million, which has been augmented by $40 million from the USDA.

Citrus industries and governments have spent millions of dollars worldwide on research seeking a cure for the disease. But, until a cure is discovered, the best hope of preventing the disease is to control its vector, ACP.

The California citrus industry has funded research at UC Riverside, where scientists have identified a natural predator of the ACP, a beneficial insect native to Pakistan called Tamarixia radiata.

Pilot projects have proven Tamarixia can be a viable treatment option in urban areas, but additional funding is necessary to get the program running at sufficient levels. In the meantime, the pest marches on into major citrus producing areas such as Ventura, Riverside and San Diego Counties, plus in the backyards of homes throughout Southern California. Now it is being discovered in the largest citrus producing area of the state, the San Joaquin Valley.

“AB 571 (Gatto – Los Angeles) would have allowed a one-time appropriation of $5 million from the State General Fund to supplement research and necessary programs to stop this insect before it can spread the disease in California,” says Nelsen. “Assemblyman Gatto recognizes that the state’s current level of support, which is zero, is inadequate.”

However, Governor Brown vetoed the bill Monday incorrectly stating, “This bill would appropriate $5 million annually from the General Fund,” and suggested working through the budget process.

“I believe the Governor was not accurately informed about the industry’s efforts to partner with his Administration,” states Nelsen. “AB 571 was meant to provide a one-time appropriation, yet the Governor incorrectly stated in his veto message that the bill provided an annual budget amendment.”

“He suggested we work through the budget process. We did that, and members of the legislature, led by Senator Kevin DeLeon (D-Los Angeles), approved a one million dollar augmentation to the Department of Food and Agriculture for pest eradication. The Department of Finance has refused to release those dollars,” continued Nelsen.

AB 571 was heard in four committees and on the floors of the State Senate and Assembly. In total, 150 votes were cast by members of the Legislature, all in support of AB 571.

Furthermore, the legislation includes the following statement:

“The Legislature finds and declares that the California citrus industry creates one billion eight hundred million dollars ($1,800,000,000) in citrus fruit, another one billion two hundred million dollars ($1,200,000,000) in economic activity, and employs an estimated 25,000 people in the state.”

Nelsen concludes, “This bill was an investment to protect the production of California’s iconic commodity—citrus. We did what the Governor suggested, and it was ignored. By vetoing AB 571, the Governor has responded that California citrus does not have a future.”