Nursing the citrus industry back to health

08/01/2007 02:00:00 AM
Elizabeth Ashby, editor

The citrus industry has endured much in the past three years. From horrific hurricanes that intensified the spread of citrus canker, to the introduction of the devastating citrus disease huanglongbing, also known as citrus greening, the going’s been tough for citrus growers.

After greening was identified and the U.S. Department of Agriculture ended the citrus canker eradication program, it was evident that the industry needed to rethink its response to these challenges. In the spring of 2006, the Citrus Health Response Program was introduced.

Developed by the USDA, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Plant Industry and industry representatives, CHRP identifies minimum standards that growers need to abide by to maintain the health of Florida’s citrus and prevent pests and diseases from spreading.

CHRP covers three main areas that are essential to effective disease citrus management. Those areas are:

  • A citrus germplasm and nursery protection program;
  • An effective disease management program for citrus growers; and
  • A defendable phytosanitary protocol that allows fresh fruit movement to all markets.

After the 2006-07 citrus season, the FDACS has revised the part of the program that applies to disease management for citrus growers. This season, new compliance agreements and business plans are in place.

“The intent of these regulatory changes is to offer a balanced approach that provides growers with the latest information on disease management strategies, allowing growers maximum flexibility in the development of customized disease management programs for each unique operation,” according to a news release from the department.

At the Florida Citrus Mutual annual conference in early June, Richard Gaskalla, director of the Division of Plant Industry, presented the regulatory changes to attendees. He said growers were required to sign new compliance agreements and submit a basic business plan by Aug. 1 for the 2007-08 fruit harvesting season.

During his presentation, Gaskalla informed the audience that the U.S. government is most concerned with “thugs, drugs and bugs,” hence its emphasis on the quarantine in place to keep Florida citrus from entering other citrus-producing states.

He also informed growers of the numerous online resources available, including a greening/canker identification map, and the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ regional workshops that took place in July to help growers fill out their business plans.

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