More than 55 citrus industry leaders met in early December for lunch with Sen. Bill Nelson, who reaffirmed his commitment to creating the National Citrus Research Trust Fund.

“We are going to get this done,” he told the crowd.

Nelson is championing a measure to divert a portion — up to $30 million per year — of the tariff on imported orange juice to a trust fund that would finance citrus research.

The language has been drafted and he is awaiting an appropriate trade bill to serve as a legislative vehicle. Nelson sits on the Senate Finance Committee, where trade bills originate.

In a letter thanking luncheon attendees, Nelson said, “The Citrus Trust Fund is one of my top priorities. Even in a year like 2011, when presidential election politics intervene, we were able to get the U.S. Department of Agriculture to immediately send $2 million to the Ft. Pierce research station and to secure a commitment for another $9 million.

“These funds will get the trust fund off the ground. Meanwhile, I will monitor, on a daily basis, potential legislation to move it forward. I’m confident we will have the bill signed into law by the end of 2012.”

Meeting with legislators helps keep citrus issues in the forefront

In early December, Florida Citrus Mutual led a contingency of citrus growers to Tallahassee to discuss industry issues with more than a dozen legislative leaders.

The group included Executive Vice President/CEO Mike Sparks, President Vic Story, board members Larry Black and Mark Wheeler,  as well as Citrus Commission Chairman Marty McKenna and Mutual’s new state lobbyist Drew Love.

“These trips are so important to keep the citrus industry and our unique challenges in front of key legislators,” Sparks said. “We had a very knowledgeable group of growers on the trip and they did an excellent job of communicating the issues we face.”

The fly-in began with a dinner meeting featuring the next six years of House speakers, Rep. Will Weatherford, Rep. Chris Dorworth, and Richard Corcoran. Rep. Ben Albritton also attended the dinner.

The next day was packed full of meetings. House Speaker Dean Cannon, Sen. JD Alexander, Sen. Don Gaetz, Rep. Seth McKeel, Sen. Andy Gardiner, Rep. Steve Crisafulli, Sen. Gary Siplin, Rep. Paige Kreegel and Rep. Trudi Williams were a few of the legislators who met with growers to talk about topics such as 601 changes, immigration and citrus research.

“We plan on re-establishing a firm presence in Tallahassee, and I think this trip went a long way to do that,” Sparks said.