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Citrus packinghouse employees

Citrus industry collaboration leads to sweet success

California's citrus industry finds success in collaboration

California’s rich history isn’t without its recognition of citrus. Cities, counties, streets and schools are named to commemorate the tasty and healthy fruit.

Commercial citrus growers can thank two organizations for the success the industry has enjoyed over the past 50 years. Together, they’ve helped build an iconic industry worth over $7 billion to the state’s economy.

California’s Citrus Research Board (CRB) turns 50 this year under the leadership of President Gary Schulz and a board of 20 citrus growers and one public member. It was in 1968 that the industry reacted to the need for a research organization to assist the industry with scientific studies.

The scientific research funded by CRB is useful not just to California growers, but to a global industry seeking answers to difficult challenges. Certainly, the introduction of Huanglongbing into the United States will rightly command much attention. This will be a critical fight for California’s fresh-fruit industry as history shows the disease has decimated Florida’s citrus industry.

California Citrus Mutual (CCM) is the industry’s watchdog. Formed about a decade after CRB, CCM got its start in similar fashion – growers recognized a need that could not be addressed singularly and collaborated on a solution.

For nearly the entire life of CCM, Joel Nelsen has been the board’s choice to lead the organization, which today represents about 80 percent of the state’s industry through voluntary membership.

By all indications Nelsen does an effective job serving the citrus industry. He’s a skilled communicator, an effective negotiator and is fiercely supportive of the California citrus industry. He understands issues and his leadership is sought in Sacramento and Washington. I understand CCM may have influenced a recent State Water Resources Control Board decision to table a controversial water decision until November.

Though commodity-specific, CCM is an organization that brings various interests to the table for common goals and objectives. This is important for an industry with its branded products that compete against each other for bin space at the grocery store. Agriculture in general could learn a lesson from such cooperation.

This was seen a couple years ago when Nelsen spearheaded a meeting where competing companies agreed to privately fund a Level 3 biosafety lab in Riverside after years of effort to publicly fund such a facility failed. Though Nelsen says the credit belongs with the consortium of companies who gave $7 million for the project, Nelsen and CCM deserve credit for moving the ball on this one.

While each have completely different missions, CCM and CRB are two of the crown jewels of an industry deserving continued support for their collective efforts. Whether it’s the scientific research necessary to find a cure for HLB and other critical pest and disease issues, or the political advocacy meant to protect growers from an onslaught of onerous regulations, both groups are a necessary and important part of an iconic California industry.

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