Learning From the Florida Industry as to How Bad it Can Be
By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor
The severe effects of the Huanglongbing (HLB) disease on Florida citrus is cause for California growers to take important preventative measures to ensure the safety of their trees. Keith Watkins, vice president of outside operations for Bee Sweet Citrus, has seen the damage firsthand and has been hard at work to protect his trees.
“I’ve been to Florida, and I’ve seen how devastating the disease can be,” he said. “We have to spend money now to basically prevent that from happening to us.”
There are currently around 1100 trees that have tested positive for HLB in the Orange County and Anaheim-Garden Grove areas, but they are mainly backyard citrus trees. Luckily, Watkins said that the disease has not yet been traced in commercial operations.
Keeping HLB out of commercial growth is the biggest challenge growers face. There is not yet a cure for the disease, but according to Watkins, growers can help prevent it from reaching their crops by staying on top of killing psyllids when spotted. “We have to stay diligent. Our future really is maintaining a psyllid free population,” he said.
CCM appoints current Executive Vice President and veteran agriculture industry representative. Current President, Joel Nelsen to step down after 37 years at the helm and assume new role within the organization.
The California Citrus Mutual (CCM) Board of Directors has named current Executive Vice President Casey Creamer as its new President and CEO effective February 1st. Creamer came to CCM last February after a national search process to eventually assume the role of President. He succeeds Joel Nelsen, who has guided CCM for the last 37 years.
“The citrus industry is very fortunate to have had an individual of Joel’s caliber the last 37 years. That kind of loyalty is not only rare, it’s unheard of,” Board Chairman Curt Holmes said. “Joel has taken a relatively small industry and has given us a huge voice. We’ve faced many challenges over the years and have addressed them head on with his energy and passion leading the way. We are incredibly grateful to him for his service and we appreciate his willingness to stay engaged in the industry.
“We are also very excited to have Casey on board as our new President and CEO,” continued Holmes. “The Board conducted an extensive search process and interviewed viable candidates from across the country. We ultimately found the right person in our own backyard. His prior experience working for a sister commodity organization and his work representing growers on water issues made him an ideal selection. Over the last year, his knowledge of the citrus industry has greatly expanded, and he has quickly become a valuable member of the CCM team on behalf of the industry.”
“I’m humbled by the opportunity to serve,” Creamer said. “I’ve been extremely fortunate to work with some of the best leaders over my career and have nothing but respect and admiration for the job that Joel has done advancing issues important to the citrus industry. I’m looking forward to carrying on the many successful traditions at CCM, while constantly seeking new ideas and pathways to address the significant challenges we face. With the enthusiasm and commitment that exists in this industry, I am confident that together, we tackle any obstacle thrown our way.”
Recently, leading farm bill negotiators in the House and Senate announced that they have reached an “agreement in principle” signaling that a final deal will be made before the end of the year.
Included in the initial agreement is language providing $25 million per year for 5 years for research specific to the invasive insect Asian citrus psyllid and deadly plant disease Huanglongbing (HLB).
The Emergency Citrus Disease Research and Development Trust Fund will build upon the program created in the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) title in the 2014 Farm Bill, which dedicated research funding for citrus.
“The trust fund language is a significant win for U.S. citrus growers,” California Citrus Mutual President Joel Nelsen said. “It’s critical for the future of our industry and the domestic citrus market that we continue to invest in research aimed to find a solution for HLB.”
The Farm Bill funding specific to HLB research complements the $40 million per year program funded by California citrus growers to stop the spread of HLB, which has been detected in over 900 backyard citrus trees in Southern California. In recent years, the state of California has dedicated funds to augment ACP and HLB control efforts in urban areas, including the rearing and release of millions of beneficial insects in backyard citrus trees.
Negotiators have also agreed to maintain funding for the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) Plant Pest and Disease Management and Disaster Prevention Program and the National Clean Plant Network (NCPN). Additionally, funding will continue for the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC) program, which helps growers overcome artificial trade barriers.
“On behalf of the California citrus industry, I want to thank the lead farm bill negotiators in both houses for their commitment to passing a Farm Bill that includes this vital funding for the U.S. citrus industry and specialty crops,” Nelsen said.
Industry Discusses Strategies in Fighting Huanglongbing Disease
By Jessica Theisman, Associated Editor
Franco Bernardi, the interim president of the California Citrus Research Board based in Visalia, attended a recent citrus regulatory meeting in Denver, Colorado. He has sat on that board for 27 years and is helping out while a new president is searched for and named.
The CRB just turned 50 years old, and it is all about finding solutions to the trying issues of pests and diseases in California citrus. Bernardi said the meeting was comprehensive in regard to moving plant material between research labs around the country.
“It was a very good meeting and fortunately it had the right people in the room, which doesn’t always happen when you have a large meeting like that,” Bernardi said.
It is a very complicated subject, but with the regulators, researchers and plant breeders, it was a good meeting. These decisions are leading to allow genetic material to be moved from one state to the other.
A lot of this surrounds huanglongbing (HLB) genetic material which is causing concern, but Bernardi said there was a consensus on how to do it.
“The regulators are now going to have to put some teeth in the regulation,” he said.
Some regulations may even need to be changed. Many states have the same safeguards. One thing that came out of the meeting is some of these processes and protections of moving material from one place to the other are already in place.
Citrus Research Board Explains Cost Impacts on Growers
News Release From California Citrus Mutual
New regulations are expected to cost California citrus growers an average of $701 per acre per year, or $203 million annually statewide, according to a new study commissioned by the Citrus Research Board (CRB).
“Compliance with environmental regulations not associated with groundwater sustainability is estimated to increase costs by $17.7 million, or $67 per acre of citrus,” predicts Bruce A. Babcock, Ph.D., a professor in the School of Public Policy at UC Riverside who authored the study. “New labor requirements will increase costs by $112 million, or $357 per acre, once they are all phased in.”
“Babcock has presented a well-researched economic report that shows how new regulations will increasingly impact California’s citrus industry,” said CRB President Gary Schulz.
The report, Impact of Regulations on Production Costs and Competitiveness of the California Citrus Industry, also predicts that controlling the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP) “will increase costs by $65 million, or $248 per acre per year, if controls are extended to all citrus-growing regions.” Compliance training costs are estimated to increase costs by another $29 per acre, or $7.5 million for the state citrus industry.
“As I read and reread Dr. Babcock’s report, two things kept jumping off the page: one, ‘Cost increases borne by California’s citrus but not by … other citrus growing regions decrease the future competitiveness of California’s citrus industry’; and two, ‘… future compliance with these regulations is estimated to increase costs by $203 million, or $701 per acre per year,'” said California Citrus Mutual President Joel Nelsen. “When the cost of citrus at store level gets too expensive, consumers look for lower priced fruit. This UCR report paints a clear path for policy makers if their goal is to drive the citrus industry out of California and onto off-shore production areas.”
The 20-page report includes a breakdown of increases in labor costs, including California’s minimum hourly wage increases, which are scheduled to rise in annual increments to $15 over the next four years. The report also covers the projected cost increases of recent state legislation dealing with paid sick leave, payment rates for rest and recovery periods, overtime and workers compensation.
The section on insecticide treatment addresses grower cost of spraying for ACP, even though the severity of the problem currently differs greatly in various areas of the state. If ACP establishes itself in all citrus regions in the state, which the report says is “almost inevitable,” control efforts would amount to $39.5 million per year, according to Babcock. This would be in addition to the state-mandated tarping of fruit that is transported to packinghouses, at a cost of approximately $9 million per year.
According to the report, The Food Safety Modernization Act, which was passed in 2011 and is still being implemented, will not require major changes for growers who are already GFSI-certified (Global Food Safety Initiative compliant).
The impact of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) is hard to predict, according to Babcock. “It will not be possible to calculate the impact of SGMA until each basin’s groundwater sustainability plans have been finalized,” he states. “Without new surface water supplies, it seems inevitable that some farmland that currently relies on groundwater will need to be fallowed to balance withdrawals with recharge rates.”
Babcock, a Fellow of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, has won numerous awards for his applied policy research. He received a Ph.D. in Agricultural and Resource Economics from UC Berkeley, and Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees from UC Davis.
The CRB administers the California Citrus Research Program, the grower-funded and grower-directed program established in 1968 under the California Marketing Act, as the mechanism enabling the state’s citrus producers to sponsor and support needed research. The full report on the Impact of Regulations on Production Costs and Competitiveness of the California Citrus Industry, as well as more information about the Citrus Research Board, may be read at www.citrusresearch.org.
CDFA filed a proposed emergency amendment TODAY to expand the ACP quarantine area in response to an “infestation” of the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP), Diaphorina citri, detected in the Farmersville/Visalia area (June 4, 2014), Tulare County. One adult female was found in the area. The proposed 14-mile expansion will include the Visalia area, and the state’s vast ACP quarantine will cover 46,544 sq. miles.
The regulation defines emergency as” a situation that calls for immediate action to avoid serious harm to the public peace, health, safety, or general welfare.” The government code provides,”if the emergency situation clearly poses such an immediate, serious harm that delaying action to allow public comment would be inconsistent with the public interest, an agency is not required to provide notice.”
CDFA Secretary Karen Ross believes that this emergency clearly poses such an immediate, serious harm that delaying action to give the notice would be inconsistent with the public interest. Therefore, Ross proposed that the CDFA Director may adopt reasonably necessary measures such as bypassing the mandatory notice five working days prior to emergency action in order to carry out emergency provisions. Additionally, she requested that the Director be permitted to establish, maintain, and enforce quarantine, eradication, and such other regulations necessary to circumscribe and exterminate or prevent the spread of any pest which is described in the code.
This comes after the California Citrus Industry’s recent backlash against the Executive Committee of the California Citrus Pest and Disease Prevention Committee’s proposed easing of the state’s ACP quarantine and eradication efforts.
And, while CDFA uses the word, “infestation”, Joel Nelsen, President of California Citrus Mutual, commented at the recent United Fresh Convention in Chicago, “There were two more ACP finds found in the northeast part of Tulare County. They were individual finds. Intensive trapping and tapping on the trees, looking for the ACP, hasn’t found any more. So one would argue that we’ve got a population—given the finds in the last year—but we’re still talking single digits.” Nelsen believes this demonstrates the eradication programs are working. “We’re supposed to find the ACP before finds a commercial citrus industry, and we’re doing that.”
Nelsen said the Executive Committee’s recent proposal to significantly modify the program was, “based upon some subjective analysis by a team of scientists who in fact believe that there’s more out there than what we can find.”
“So,” he continued, “we’re obligated to prove a negative; and as long as we do the intensive trapping program, as long as we continue the mandated treatment program, as long as we’re aggressively looking for the Asian citrus psyllid—I don’t see how, and industry doesn’t buy into the fact, you have an endemic population. We’re not finding them in volume; everything is isolated.”
“So, when the industry first became aware of this possible change in the treatment zones of the quarantine mandates, the industry challenged CDFA.”
Now, not only does the ACP program remain intact, but TODAY, CDFA Secretary Ross proposed measures for an unhindered and immediate eradication response by CDFA to ACP discoveries.
Featured Photo Credit: Ted Batkin, Citrus Research Board, “Invasive Pests in California” 1/10.
California Citrus Mutual and Senators Fuller and Vidak to hold Press Conference June 6, 11:00 a.m.
Please join California Citrus Mutual, Senator Andy Vidak and Senator Jean Fuller for a press conference on the current water crisis and its devastating impact to the Central Valley’s $1.5 billion citrus industry and local communities.
The event is on Friday, June 6 at 11:00 a.m.in a Bakersfield citrus grove that is being pulled out of production due to zero surface water allocation [21662 Bena Rd., Bakersfield, CA]. The scene of removed groves is, unfortunately, becoming a familiar one throughout the Valley as citrus growers are faced with zero water allocation for the first time in the Central Valley Water Project’s history.
“The situation our industry is now faced with is not the result of a drought,” says CCM President Joel Nelsen. “It is the result of inaction and indifference by state and federal regulators who have time and again demonstrated that the production of food and fiber is not a priority.”
California Citrus Mutual estimates that nearly 50,000 acres of citrus will receive zero water allocation this year. “The loss of citrus production in the Central Valley will undoubtedly have a ripple effect that will be felt in many local communities,” continues Nelsen.
“Due to the zero water allocation, thousands of acres of citrus trees have already been destroyed resulting in higher food prices and lost jobs,” says Senator Fuller. “Now is the time for regulators to act on behalf of the farmers and residents of the Valley, get the water moving to where it is needed most, and stop the planned removal of thousands of more acres of citrus.”
“The citrus industry is an economic driver in the Central Valley,” says Senator Vidak. “The loss of prime citrus production as a result of zero water allocation will have a lasting and devastating impact on jobs and our communities. This is not simply an agricultural problem; the impact will be felt by each and every one of us if water is not made available to our Valley.”
Speaking at the press conference will be CCM President Joel Nelsen, Senator Andy Vidak, and Senator Jean Fuller along with Valley citrus growers who have been directly impacted by this water crisis.