California verdict still out on bees versus mandarin rules - The Packer

California verdict still out on bees versus mandarin rules

06/03/2009 06:12:00 PM
Don Schrack

Delano-based Paramount Citrus Association owns more than 30,000 acres of California citrus groves. Annual citrus volume for Sun Pacific Shippers, Los Angeles, is more than 10 million cartons, according to the company's Web site.

The citrus industry's concern is not with the major grower-shippers but with the area's smaller operations, Nelsen said.

"The larger producers were able to find the netting to protect their fruit to a greater degree than the smaller grower," he said. "As a result, the smaller grower is running a greater risk of seed contamination."

Not cheap

Netting the groves is an expensive task. The netting, which covers trees from the ground up and was widely used for the first time this spring, costs about $1,700 per acre, said a spokesman for Fowler Packing Co. Inc., Fowler.

"Even with expensive, specialized equipment, it still takes six workers to net the trees," he said.

Fowler Packing hopes to reuse the netting for another few years. If the netting holds up for four seasons, Fowler Packing projects the annual cost of draping the groves will run about $800 per acre, the spokesman said.

Aside from registering the locations of hives, the regulations had little effect on beekeepers, said Woody DeHaven, owner for nearly 30 years of DeHaven Apiaries, Visalia. The regulations also had little effect on unnetted trees, he said.

"The bees know where the grocery store is, and they'll travel up to 5 miles from the hive," he said.

The potential for seeds in the mandarins ought not to have been a surprise to growers, Everett said. University of California researchers alerted the citrus industry to the potential problem more than a decade ago, he said, but it was the growing popularity of the so-called zipper oranges and the high f.o.b. prices they fetched that spurred growers to plant more and more of the mandarins over the past 15 years.

"Now they're like the guy who builds a house in a flood plain and then complains that his house flooded," Everett said.

Profit is a factor in the controversy, Nelsen said.

"The seedless mandarins are commanding $4 a carton more, but for the mandarins with seeds, the growers don't get their money back," he said.

Not all citrus grower-shippers are upset about the bee controversy. An unanswered question is whether the consumer is concerned about a seed or two, said Fred Berry, director of marketing for Mulholland Citrus, Orange Cove.



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