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Veto puts California governor at odds with citrus industry

California Gov. Jerry Brown's veto of a bill designed to protect the state's citrus growers against the spread of Huanglongbing, or citrus greening, has roiled the members of the state's citrus cooperative.

"His veto of AB 571 is a clear message to our industry that citrus no longer has a home in California," Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, based in Exeter, said in a statement. "AB 571 passed through four committees and two houses of the state legislature without opposition. The governor vetoed a bill designed to protect Southern California homeowners, the commercial citrus industry, and the pioneering use of biological control to stop the Asian citrus psyllid and deadly citrus disease Huanglongbing.

"He sent the same message 30 years ago with his unwillingness to eradicate the Medfly, and now California's $2 billion iconic citrus industry has been given the same message - that we are not important," Nelsen added.

The California citrus industry exists significantly in eight counties, employs over 12,000 people and has a foundation of over 3,900 producers, the vast majority of whom are family farmers who ship fresh product from approximately 100 shippers, generating an additional $1.5 billion in economic activity.

Citrus growers, packinghouses and their employees submit $500 million in general fund support via taxes each year, according to a CCM press release. In terms of fees and permits the industry forwards another $112 million to underwrite state government mandates.

"But I guess none of that is important," Nelsen added.

The California citrus industry has assessed itself over $60 million in detection and treatment for the Asian citrus psyllid. The federal government has put forth an estimated $40 million in an effort to protect the nation's top fresh citrus industry.

In Florida, the state has financially partnered with its industry to defend against the devastation of Huanglongbing.

"But not our governor," Nelsen said. "Governor Brown's veto of AB 571 sends a clear message to all agriculture stakeholders, that this administration does not care about the citrus industry or California agriculture."

There are more citrus trees in Southern California backyards than in the entire commercial citrus industry. "Funds from AB 571 were destined for biological control in the Los Angeles Basin," Nelsen said. "Biological control would reduce the threat of diseased Asian citrus psyllids from infecting back yard trees. That's how it started in Florida and now over 250,000 acres of prime citrus have been destroyed or abandoned in that state. Brazil has eliminated over 12 million trees because of the disease. Every state in Mexico with citrus is infected with the disease for which there is no known cure. But I guess none of that is important to the governor."

In his veto message the governor said he wanted to "review our options during the budget process," which drew a scathing response from the CCM executive.

"The governor's veto message is laughable!" said Nelsen. "The legislature approved $1 million to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, but his Department of Finance will not release the funds."  

Designed by representatives of the citrus industry in partnership with the scientific community and regulatory bodies at the state and federal level, the California's effort to stop the Asian citrus psyllid and Huanglongbing has been touted across the country as a vibrant example of private and public sector partnerships.  

"But I guess that's not important to this governor," Nelsen said. "His definition of leadership is duplicating the destruction that continues to spread throughout the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Belize and China."