Opinion: Change Is The Only Constant In The World Of Citrus

Inevitably, change brings questions — lots of them. To maintain the health of this industry, we must be willing to ask tough questions and find the answers.

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After canker was declared endemic last year, the Special Industry Committee (SIC) was formed to address some of the many questions facing our industry. The 12-member panel spent several meetings delving into whether the industry could remain competitive, and what the industry needed to do in a higher-grower-cost environment.

Exploring Free Rides

One topic that kept surfacing was the “free rider” issue. We know generic advertising works, but how do we make sure companies that import orange juice into the U.S. pay their fair share?

The SIC recommended that the industry explore whether creating a federal program for research and marketing of processed citrus would allow us to assess a fee on imports. If Florida Department of Citrus (FDOC) advertising grows the market for orange juice, certainly Brazilian and multi-national processors and importers should help pay for it.

As a result of SIC’s recommendation, the Federal Program Exploratory Committee was formed. The committee is made up of a blue-ribbon panel of industry experts: Raphord Farrington, Ben Hill Griffin; Kristen Gunter, Florida Citrus Processors Association; Ricke Kress, Southern Gardens Citrus; Robert Behr, Florida’s Natural Growers; J.A. Clark III, Florida Citrus Mutual; and Rick Tomlin, Louis Dreyfus Citrus. It is chaired by Michael Carrere from Lykes Brothers Inc.

Despite media reports to the contrary, this committee wasn’t put together to dismantle the FDOC. Again, in this era of change, questions need to be asked. Nothing is off limits. The exploratory committee is part of that process.

The committee’s charge is to answer four main questions:

  • Is there available to the Florida industry a federal process by which a mechanism for assessing imports of processed orange products could be established?
  • If so, what are the advantages and disadvantages for the Florida citrus industry of conducting generic research and promotion through a federal program?
  • What would the program look like?
  • If the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, what would be the hurdles to overcome to establish such a program?

Seeking Counsel

There are currently nine federal fruit and vegetable marketing programs — cultivated blueberries, Haas avocados, honey, mangos, mushrooms, peanuts, popcorn, potatoes, and watermelon. Some of these commodities assess importers for research and promotion, others don’t. The committee plans to meet with leaders of several of these commodity programs to gather information.

The programs are under the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. For programs that collect from importers, a board is assembled by the Secretary of Agriculture and made up of producers, handlers, importers, and processors. The board assesses domestic producers, while the U.S. Customs Service collects assessments from importers.

As this process moves forward, industry consensus on any decision is key. The USDA will not consider a proposal that does not have a critical mass of industry support. So the work of the exploratory committee is crucial in gauging the level of support. I encourage everyone with a stake in this process to let the committee know your thoughts.

Eventually, the exploratory committee should come to a conclusion on whether creating a federal program for marketing and research is a good thing for the Florida citrus industry. But no recommendations will be made to the Florida Citrus Commission or broader industry until the issue is thoroughly examined from all angles.

Perhaps, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, the committee will find that the current structure is the worst possible way to equitably pay for research and promotion — except for all the others.