Last week Texas, Florida and California Citrus Mutuals were summoned to Washington for a discussion on the utilization of dollars in the three main citrus producing states to offset challenges from ACP/HLB. For FY 18/19 Congress had increased appropriations but budget dollars were not passed until January 2019. USDA was concerned about “the wise use” of these dollars as it related to operations, implementation of research programs and the caliber of programs applying for grant funds to assist in the effort. Mike Sparks, Florida Citrus Mutual, Dale Murden, Texas Citrus Mutual, and CCM’s Joel Nelsen met with senior management at USDA/APHIS to debate, discuss and eventually agree on a path forward for the U. S. citrus industry. “The two-hour session was preceded by the three mutuals attempting to reach an agreement and therefore provide a unified front to USDA,” Nelsen explains. “Our comradery and trust factor is beyond reproach but when you are talking about an entire program now reaching $90 million across the country there are bound to be disagreements.”
An agreement was reached and is moving upstairs for affirmation. Once finalized by USDA leadership notification to appropriate entities and individuals in the industry and at state government will commence.
On an equally positive front, the House Appropriations Committee has agreed to terms and dollars for the Citrus Health Response Program, (field operations) Multi-Agency Coordinating Group (research implementation) and Farm Bill research dollars. This latter effort was a joint initiative with the three Citrus Mutuals, Wonderful Citrus, and Sunkist Growers. The operations component of the battle received an increase of a few million dollars and now is $61m spread across the country. California could receive a $2.9m bump which will be used by the industry’s Pest & Disease Advisory Committee to address detection, analysis, treatment, outreach and tree removal efforts within our state. The MAC program was significantly elevated to $8.5m with the bulk being channeled to Florida for innovative farming techniques. California, heretofore, has received less than its fair share but is now guaranteed $2m with more flexibility on how it can be used. The Farm Bill funds, $25m specific to HLB/ACP research, was also contained in the Committee’s bill and those dollars will be spread out to credible projects as defined by a grower committee representing the three major citrus producing states. During Farm Bill deliberations California received representation equal to that of Florida.
The House Appropriations activity will now move to the floor where the debate on other components could slow down the final passage. However, the language associated with the HLB program is not in question. The citrus coalition will now begin working with their respective Senate offices to ensure comparable language is included in the Senate version. Ideally, all this will be put to bed by the end of July but most likely a final passage in September will occur.