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Citrus Growers Association seeks gov't assistance to save nursery

Published:Thursday | May 3, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Dr Percy Miller Jr, technical director to the Citrus Growers Association, explains the details of the offers for use of its Juciful trademark during an extra-ordinary general meeting held recently at the St Thomas-Ye-Vale Anglican Church in Bog Walk, St Catherine.

Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer

The Citrus Growers Association (CGA) will be seeking government's assistance in saving the 4-acre nursery it successfully operated on the grounds of the factory and citrus processing plant owned by its subsidiary company, Jamaica Citrus Growers Limited, which is now in receivership. Delegates of the CGA last Thursday penned a resolution to be sent to agriculture minister Roger Clarke to save the facility from any "dislocation" when the plant is sold.

The resolution came during an extraordinary meeting held at the St Thomas-Ye-Vale Anglican Church in Bog Walk, St Catherine. The delegates argue that the inventory built up over years represents a major investment, and should be preserved with the aim of its continuing supporting role of the citrus industry.

Curtailing the disease

The government has closed all citrus nurseries as a means of curtailing the spread of the greening disease but supplied up to 80 per cent of citrus seedlings when operational. In addition, this facility also supplies mango and cherry, among other plants, for the National Tree Planting Programme from which it has a multimillion-dollar contract.

Relocating it is not an option, Dr Percy Miller, CGA technical director, told the meeting - a move he estimates would require a minimum $40 million investment.

He explained: "When you consider the plant propagation facility, irrigation system, the lunch room, restroom for male and female staff, and so much more, you can't just replicate that so easily."

The delegates charged the CGA board to impress upon Minister Clarke the importance of keeping the nursery from falling into private sector hands, now that it has lost control of the 10-acre property which was the main source for the sale and processing of citrus fruits from members. Established in the 1940s, the CGA operation up the 1980s was a shining example of how a farmers group should operate. However, following deregulation, which saw it losing the cess on exported concentrate and processed fruit, it fell into decline with a serious fall-off in production, especially over the past 10 years. After coping with the Tristeza virus, which threatened to destroy the local industry in the 1990s, it is now having to deal with a bacterial infection commonly called 'greening'.

The company last Thursday accepted a purchase offer from Trade Winds Citrus Limited, which will continue to distribute, market and promote sale of fruit juices under its Juciful brand, but the fate of its 136-acre farm in Wakefield, St Catherine, is uncertain, with some $3 million owed to the National Commercial Bank.