The Florida Citrus Commission (FCC), governing board of the Florida Department of Citrus (FDOC), is still seeking information before setting grower taxes and a budget for this season. The FCC held the latest in a series of marketing and budget workshops Oct. 18.
At the most recent workshop, FDOC Executive Director Shannon Shepp asked commissioners if they could offer an indication what the grower assessment might be; no indication was given. The FCC will meet again Oct. 23, but Shepp says, “We don’t intend to set the tax rate on that date. I think we are going to be seeking more information.”
Shepp explains why the budget and rate-setting process is taking longer than usual this year. “This year we’ve got a couple of things in play,” she says. “We are an industry that’s focused on recovery. We have a very high (orange juice) inventory. We had that hurricane year (Hurricane Irma in September 2017). We had lots of imports (of orange juice following the hurricane). We’ve got a lot of growers that are having problems finding homes for their fruit. The economics of the industry aren’t looking very good. And so there’s some concern out there for, do we spend more money marketing now or not? Is moving juice the goal to get back to a more stable economic model in the industry? So we want to make sure we’re doing the absolute right thing for the industry.”
The current grower tax for oranges, by far Florida’s largest citrus crop, is 7 cents per box. Shepp says keeping the tax at 7 cents this season would raise approximately $2.9 million for marketing efforts.
The FCC will meet again on Oct. 23. When that meeting was set, it was expected the FCC would approve a budget and set grower tax rates for this season. But that’s not likely now. “We don’t intend to set the tax rate on that date,” Shepp says. “I think we are going to be seeking more information.”
Grower groups are not totally in accord on tax rates for this season. Florida Citrus Mutual’s written recommendation is to “hold the line and keep all FDOC tax rates the same as the prior year.” Highlands County Citrus Growers Association stated that it is “supportive of a limited increase from the current seven cents per box rate” if that increase is needed to improve consumption of orange juice.
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