With the start of a new season underway, I figured now is as good a time as any to remind growers and members of the Florida citrus industry about the importance of joining Florida Citrus Mutual (FCM) if you aren’t part of the family already.
We are facing tough challenges and now is the time to invest in your only statewide trade organization that serves as the voice of the Florida citrus grower in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. If you are not a member, become one.
Despite the harsh reality of the HLB environment, the citrus industry has had unprecedented success in Tallahassee and Washington over the past decade. And make no mistake, it is because we have talked with a clear, unified voice.
Since the 2000-2001 season, Mutual has helped garner almost $1.2 billion from state and federal sources for citrus research, disaster compensation, bonus USDA juice purchases, and a number of other programs.
During the same period, FCM has collected $39.1 million in assessments. Consequently, every dollar invested in FCM over that period has resulted in $32.3 returned to the benefit of the Florida citrus industry. And our assessment has stayed at 3.9 cents a box for the past eight years.
Part of the success is due to the efficient management of both state and federal Political Action Committees (PACs), which allow the grower to support candidates who understand citrus issues and set policy accordingly. The PACs are funded through various events such as auctions, sporting events, and grassroots campaigns.
Plus, FCM is the only citrus “watchdog” defending the Florida citrus industry against unfair trade practices. FCM monitors trade data to ensure the Brazilians and other importers are playing by the rules. FCM also vigorously defends the tariff on imported orange juice.
Mutual serves as the primary media representative for the Florida citrus grower. FCM talks to various international, national, state, and local media on behalf of the industry. The organization has conducted hundreds of interviews over the past decade — radio, television, and print and used the resulting stories as an effective tool when educating decision-makers.
FCM organizes several highly attended meetings including the Florida Citrus Industry Annual Conference, the International Conference on HLB, the Citrus Hall of Fame luncheon, the Washington and Tallahassee Fly-Ins, and the annual crop estimate luncheon, among others.
We have been very successful in garnering more than $133 million from state and federal coffers to support the fight against HLB over the past few years. These are dollars that otherwise would have to come out of growers’ pockets. Here are some of the activities the state and federal dollars have funded:
• The latest Farm Bill funded $125 million over the next five years for citrus pest and disease research. Already, $50 million has been awarded to scientists.
• The State Legislature has appropriated more than $20 million to the Citrus Research and Development Foundation to fund HLB research projects.
• Federal Multi-Agency Coordination dollars ($21 million) are helping get research in the field in areas like bactericides and heat therapies.
• Participated in the development and authorization of the first Florida Federal Tree Assistance Program (TAP) as well as the FDACS Abandoned Grove and Grove Renovation programs.
As part of its push to support incentive programs to growers, FCM is now actively pursuing a change to the IRS tax code to provide growers with a financial incentive to plant citrus trees. Amending the IRS tax code to temporarily allow expensing certain costs of replanting trees will provide significant investment opportunities for citrus growers. Through the leadership of Rep. Vern Buchanan and our other friends in the U.S. House, representatives passed the bill earlier this year. We are cautiously optimistic through the support of Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio we can get the measure through the Senate during the so called “Lame Duck” session in December.
So, as the 2016-2017 harvest swings into full gear, remember the industry cannot negotiate the hurdles we face without remaining unified and strong. Thank you so much for your support and hang in there. We will get through this together.