A few weeks ago CCM wrote a letter to Whole Foods regarding their Responsibly Grown program expressing concerns that California citrus would never qualify or be merchandised as “responsibly grown,” creating a huge disservice to the industry.  The letter triggered a phone call and invitation from their produce and sustainability team leaders to meet with CCM to discuss these concerns.  The meeting took place earlier this week with CCM Executive Committee members Matt Fisher and Brian Neufeld joined by CCM director Terry Orr and President Joel Nelsen.

During his opening remarks, Nelsen noted that CCM believes all California citrus should qualify for the responsibly grown label.  “The industry was the first to partner with UC on a field station, the first to adopt IPM practices, the first to practice low volume irrigation techniques, and many other firsts,” stated Nelsen.  The CCM Directors provided insight as to how much of a designated crop protection tool was used and how it was applied.  Materials of concern expressed by their sustainability guide were 2-4,D, Imazalil, TBZ and neonics.

“They were obviously using somewhat dated information regarding the post-harvest materials and 2,4-D;” reported CCM Vice Chair Matt Fisher.  “We delivered letters from EPA, DPR and OEHHA concluding that the designated materials were not cancer causing or reproductive toxicants as originally surmised,” Fisher continued.  CCM worked on these three products extensively during the reviews several years ago.

“We also explained how much material was used and how it was monitored in packing houses,” Orr added.  This was obviously news to them as they relied on technical people thousands of miles away for their evaluation.  CCM also provided a three page bibliography of scientific evaluations regarding neonics and bees.  “We went into great depth about our bee program and how we accommodate them at some risk to ourselves,” noted Neufeld.  “They had no idea how our industry works at great length to enshrine to their needs even though our use for bees is non-existent.”

“The use of 2,4-D was discussed at great length as their technical team focused on the wrong ester and wrong use of the material,” Fisher continued.  “When you think about it; 6oz to the acre, 135 trees to the acre, 700 oranges or so to the tree; how much residue and toxicity can really exist'” Neufeld chimed in.  “And without it our season and your opportunity for sales would conclude by March,” Fisher concluded.  It was also mentioned that citrus is one of only two fruits delivered in a package that the consumer peels away, protecting the healthy and flavorful product inside.

So where does this leave us?  The dialogue will continue as the Whole Foods reps professed great interest in learning more.  They understood the importance of neonics in the battle against ACP & HLB and the CCM team heard that neonics were off the table as a discussion item because of their grave importance. The Whole Foods reps readily agreed that they would like to see what citrus growers do and how they do it in order to gain more accurate knowledge.

The CCM goal remains the same-ALL California citrus is responsibly grown and should be labeled as such.  The discussions will continue inasmuch the Whole Foods team does recognize that labeling some competitive fruit as responsibly grown while not giving California citrus this label is a disservice to our industry.