Florida orange growers will pay the Florida Department of Citrus (FDOC) a 7-cents-per-box tax in the current season for their juice oranges. After considering higher rates for months, the Florida Citrus Commission finally agreed to keep the existing 7-cent rate at its meeting on Nov. 20. The commission did, however, indicate its willingness to spend up to an additional $2 million for orange marketing as the season progresses, with that money coming from an FDOC fund balance. The commission is the FDOC’s governing board.
Industry input was widely divided on the appropriate tax level. Some growers and organizations said a tax increase was needed for enhanced FDOC funding that might sell more orange juice to counter a years-long downward sales trend. Others opposed a tax increase, often on grounds that growers struggling with higher production costs in the face of HLB can ill afford increased taxation.
Commissioner Ellis Hunt indicated his decision not to vote for increased taxes hinged largely on input from Florida Citrus Mutual and a group of 14 large growers, both of which called for keeping the rate unchanged.
The 14 growers that signed a Nov. 18 letter opposing an increase were A. Duda & Sons, Alico, Barron Collier Companies, Bernard Egan & Company, Consolidated Citrus, Evans Properties, IMG Enterprises, Peace River Citrus Products, Peace River Packing Company, Premier Citrus, S. & R. Ag Holdings, Southern Gardens Groves Corp., Tamiami Citrus and Twenty Twenty Groves.
That letter read in part: “Imported product now represents over half of the orange juice consumed in the United States … U.S. OJ sales are declining at an alarming rate, and the Commission is rightfully focusing on more robust marketing programs … The problem is that raising taxes on Florida growers will not generate enough resources to move the needle. The burden imposed upon the Florida grower would be disproportionately beneficial to imported product … We urge the Commission to take a leadership role and immediately begin pursuing either a federal marketing order or some other mechanism that will require importers to pay their fair share and generate sufficient resources to make an impact on the market.”
Commissioner Marty McKenna was a strong advocate for a tax increase but said, “I realize I’m probably in a minority.” Approximately five growers who addressed the commission seemed to all support a tax increase.
Commission Chairman Ned Hancock said he plans to appoint members to a proposed industry-wide panel that will do strategic planning regarding marketing and funding efforts in the future. He said the commission won’t lead that panel, but will leave it up to other organizations to organize the effort.
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