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California Citrus Mutual urges legislators to make targeted, not across-the-board, cuts

There are fewer issues on the priority list of California Citrus Mutual this year than there have generally been in the past, but “they are much greater in their potential impact,” said Joel Nelsen, president of the Exeter, CA-based trade association that represents some 12,000 citrus growers.

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Joel Nelsen

“Budget issues in Sacramento [CA] and Washington continue to be a major priority because those are impacting the ability of state and federal governments to adequately protect agriculture, let alone our industry, in terms of invasive species detection, survey work and even treatment,” he said.

The concern is not that cuts are being made in government spending, but that they are being made indiscriminately across the board without giving adequate consideration to which expenditures are wise and necessary or even which expenditures might generate a return greater than the cost.

“We continue to articulate to our representatives, ‘You can’t be penny wise and pound foolish here. You can’t cut the number of people engaged in valuable processes without expecting a major negative impact that is going to cost a lot more, whether it is an eradication program or the loss of a crop or a commodity.’“ he said.

CCM and Sunkist Growers Inc. recently sent a joint letter “to our delegation in Washington suggesting that there is a top tier of priorities that shouldn’t be impacted as they go through this difficult time of cutting the budget,” Mr. Nelsen told The Produce News Oct. 10.

A section of that letter, dated Sept. 22, stated, “We recognize that Congress will be considering extremely difficult decisions on budgetary priorities, including agricultural programs. As representatives of California’s $2-billion citrus industry, we wish to convey our thoughts on priorities intended to maintain economic activity and future competitiveness of our 5,000 growers and their approximately 12,000 employees.

“We are extremely concerned that across-the-board department cuts will adversely impact important and much-needed programs without regard to their mission and ultimate value. Instead, we urge a targeted approach to programs under the auspices of the [U.S. Department of Agriculture]. We believe that programs and agencies that deliver more than a full return on the taxpayer’s investment should receive full funding for the next fiscal year and beyond.”

Among those priorities, “we want to protect the agency and the programs associated with” the Animal and Plant Health Inspection service, and also the Foreign Agricultural Service, which administers the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops grants and other programs that help specialty crops overcome trade barriers. Additionally, “we want to protect block grants, which help commodities such as ours create competitive tools,” he said.

Market Access Program funding and crop insurance are also among the programs CCM is working to preserve.

“We are willing to discuss other programs, other venues, other issues within the budget process,” he said, “But those are to be protected.”

CCM also continues, he said, “to focus on anything surrounding” Asian Citrus Psyllid, a carrier of the HLB virus, which has devastated citrus industries elsewhere and currently threatens the California industry. “There is an endemic population” of ACP in the Los Angeles area “that we are trying to suppress, and it is taking a huge amount of resources on the part of the federal government and industry to do that, but we think we are making progress.”

The communication program “that the industry is sponsoring with the USDA has paid dividends,” Mr. Nelsen said. “Because to this date, ... we are not getting any negativity from any residential homeowner. I think this is a case study of how an industry should approach an invasive-species problem and an eradication effort such as this. I think we have done well.” It is “a huge battle that we are engaged in, and so far ... successfully.”