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Ban slashes sales of fresh tangerines

The U.S. Agriculture Department imposed a quarantine to curb the spread of canker to other citrus-growing states.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published August 21, 2006


SEBRING - Florida tangerine growers say a federal ban on shipping fresh citrus to other citrus-growing states is hitting them especially hard.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture imposed the quarantine in June to curb the spread of citrus canker, a disease that is harmless to humans but makes fruit blemish and drop prematurely from the tree, hurting its market value.

Unlike Florida orange growers, who avoid the worst sting of the quarantine by turning 90 percent of their crop into juice, the state's tangerine growers rely heavily on sales of fresh fruit in other citrus-growing states.

Marvin Kahn, 73, said he usually ships about 60,000 boxes of Honey-T's to California, one of 11 states and U.S. territories now off limits.

"We're having our primary market taken away from us," Kahn said. "We will not be able to sell our fruit for what it is really worth."

Kahn, who also grows grapefruit and oranges, said he made a $70,000 profit last year from his 20-acre tangerine grove in Sebring. This year, he said, he will likely recoup only the cost of growing the crop.

Florida normally ships up to 1.5-million cartons of tangerines to citrus-growing regions where fresh Florida citrus is now banned, said Richard Kinney, executive director of the Florida Citrus Packers Association.

Florida officials were caught off guard in June when the USDA announced the quarantine in response to a state and federal decision to end a 10-year fight to eradicate canker. Authorities now focus only on containing canker outbreaks.

As a result, shipments of fresh Florida citrus are prohibited in Alabama, American Samoa, Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii, Louisiana, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, Texas and the Virgin Islands. It is unclear how long the quarantine will last.

Florida growers and Gov. Jeb Bush argue that the quarantine is too broad and that groves nowhere near canker outbreaks should be exempted. The ban is seen as harmful, but not lethal to the state's $9-billion citrus industry.

"We may not get the pricing as high as we have had it in previous years, but I still think the industry can step up and meet the challenge," said Duke Chadwell, manager of the Citrus Administrative Committee, which sets standards for fresh citrus shipments.

Growers in other states are sympathetic, said California Citrus Mutual President Joel Nelsen, "but the fact of the matter is Florida has canker and we don't want it."

[Last modified August 21, 2006, 01:35:34]


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