(Dec. 7) Florida citrus leaders are standing by their state’s citrus promotion and marketing agency despite a state report critical of the agency’s failing to meet performance goals.

The Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, an agency charged with reviewing state agency performance, in a Nov. 16 audit contended the Florida Department of Citrus failed to meet half of its 10 performance measures, which include volume of fresh and processed shipments and agency administrative costs.

The report recommended options ranging from maintaining, reconfiguring, shutting down or combining the citrus agency’s programs with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Florida’s oldest citrus grower trade organization, the Indian River Citrus League, has told members of the state’s joint legislative sunset review committee that the citrus department provides economic benefits to the growers and affiliated fresh fruit packinghouses.

“Regardless of some of the changing sentiments, most growers feel they’d rather have the control and keep the system as is than change it and put it in some other department or jettison it,” said Doug Bournique, the Vero Beach, Fla.-based league’s executive vice president.

The options the study recommended are:

  • continuing the department with no changes;

  • transferring the agency’s scientific research and licensing functions to the agriculture department while keeping the citrus department as a separate entity to conduct marketing programs;

  • eliminating the citrus department and moving its functions to a separate division or into existing programs of the agriculture department with the Florida Citrus Commission, which governs the citrus department’s activities, remaining an advisory committee;

  • ending both the citrus department and commission and folding the department’s regulatory and scientific functions in to the agriculture department while moving the marketing function to the citrus industry; and

  • direct the citrus department to pursue starting a federal research and promotion program similar to the national hass avocados research and promotion program to administer citrus marketing and research programs.

Frank Hunt III, president of the Lake Wales, Fla.-based Hunt Bros. Cooperative, disagreed with the report.

“We can agree or disagree with some of their programs, but bottom line is, we need the Department of Citrus,” he said. “I don’t know that folding it into the department of agriculture is the right thing to do.”

Mike Sparks, executive vice president and chief executive officer of Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual, in a statement said he agrees with the suggestion to survey growers to identify the industry’s preference of the six options. The state’s largest growers group, however, urged continuation of the agency.