Uncertainty facing California citrus grower-shippers

11/05/2012 10:54:00 AM
Don Schrack

VISALIA, Calif. — Economic support from Washington, D.C., will continue to help the California citrus industry in its battle against a deadly disease, but the state’s fiscal health remains on shaky ground, attendees at the 35th annual meeting of California Citrus Mutual were told Nov. 1.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has committed another $13.5 million to keep Asian citrus psyllids and huanglongbing, the disease the pest can carry, from reaching California’s commercial citrus groves, Joel Nelsen, president of Citrus Mutual told the 370 industry representatives at the Visalia Convention Center.

Nelsen quoted written remarks forwarded by Rebecca Bech, deputy administrator of plant protection and quarantine for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Bech was scheduled to be the dinner’s keynote speaker, but Hurricane Sandy prevented her making the trip to California.

In her remarks, Bech applauded the state’s growers for their initiative.

“The citrus industry in California stands out from other industry partners because you do not wait for the government to fix your problems,” she said. “You work to fix it yourselves.”

Bech referred to the industry’s self-imposed $15 million increased annual assessments that are spearheading the effort to combat the psyllids and the disease, also known as HLB.

Replacing Bech at the dinner was a panel of three California Republican lawmakers who offered a bleak forecast of the state’s fiscal future.

Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown is prevented by organized labor from taking the steps necessary to right the state’s economic ship, said Bakersfield Sen. Jean Fuller.

“I truly believe he wants to fix California, but it’s his own backers who pull him back,” she said. “He has not in his two years yet delivered on his promise to fix or reform California government.”

Just as frustrating to lawmakers who represent districts in the agriculture rich San Joaquin Valley, Fuller said, is the abundance in Sacramento of legislators from urban areas.

“They have a very different understanding of rural needs,” she said.

The general public must share some of the blame for the state’s maladies, said David Valadao, a Hanford-based member of the Assembly and a candidate for Congress,

“The average person doesn’t follow enough what’s going on in Sacramento,” he said. “They (voters) don’t get the full picture from glancing at the headlines.”

Visalia Assemblywoman Connie Conway put part of the blame for the stalemate in Sacramento on the opposing goals of the two major political parties.

“Democrats want the people who are already paying to pay more,” Conway said. “Republicans want to create more taxpayers.”

Democrats hold commanding majorities in both houses of the state Legislature.

“There is no balance. it’s so punitive,” said Conway, who chairs the Assembly Republican Caucus.

If efforts by Democrats fail to increase temporarily the sales tax and income taxes, the state will still survive, she said.

“It will not be Armageddon,” Conway said.



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