TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that into law Monday, making adjustments to the Florida Citrus Commission, a state agency charged with regulating the citrus industry in the state. House Bill 1097 expands the commission’s size, adds new citrus districts, and creates new requirements for membership.

The bill comes as Florida’s citrus output remains low, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA data showed Florida’s orange output was the lowest of the past four seasons, in terms of boxes of oranges produced. The 2021 to 2022 growing season showed that in Florida, all orange production had fallen 11% since the previous season.

Grapefruit production was also lower, at a 7% drop, while tangerine and tangelo production had fallen just 1%. The citrus season is expected to end in early June, according to the USDA.

Legislative analysis of HB 1097 says the bill will make multiple changes to how the citrus industry in Florida is managed. According to the text of the new legislation, the number of citrus districts in the state is expanded from three to six, and the commission membership is increased from nine to 11.

Additionally, the membership requirements for each commissioner would be slightly changed.

Going forward, the bill stipulates that members will serve three-year terms. Additionally, due to the expansion of the commission, new members must be appointed on or after July 1, when the bill takes effect. Those members’ terms will end on May 31, 2025 to keep with the three-year term rule.

As far as membership requirements, some changes are simple, changing classification names, while others involve qualifications to serve.

Now signed into law, three commission members must be processors, or those who are involved in canning, concentrating, or processing citrus for market. One member must be a packer, meaning someone involved in a business that operates a packinghouse. They must be a resident of the Indian River production area of Florida.

Another member will have to be a grower with a production area of more than 5,001 acres and “reside and grow citrus” in Florida.

Additionally, The number of grower members of the commission will be expanded from six to seven. All members of the commission must live in Florida. The districts for citrus growing have also been redefined as a result of the expanded number of districts.

Starting July 1, the Citrus Districts will be defined as:

  • District 1: Collier, Hendry, and Lee counties.
  • District 2: Charlotte County
  • District 3: Glades, Highlands, and Okeechobee counties.
  • District 4: Hardee, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota counties.
  • District 5: Citrus, Hernando, Levy, Osceola, Pasco, Polk, and Sumter counties.
  • District 6: Alachua, Brevard, Broward, Flagler, Indian River, Lake, Marion, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Orange, Palm Beach, Putnam, St. Johns, Seminole, St. Lucie, and Volusia counties.

Each member of the commission classified as a grower must come from one of the new citrus districts. Members are appointed at the discretion of the governor.

New responsibilities will also be added to the Citrus Commission. When the bill takes effect, the commission will have new rules for research proposal and award funding. The State Treasury on citrus production and research will now conduct contracts through the Commission, and will deliver a report every six months.

The report, written by the Citrus Research and Development Foundation, Inc., will have to include information on:

  • Project plans selected for funding
  • Financial status of each project
  • Findings of the funded research
  • Availability of citrus products or applications of growers’ practices as found through funded research
  • Status of commercialization processes for those products or practices

Additionally, before sale to the public, “any new variety of citrus fruit which is developed as a result of any research or study accomplished using any percentage of funds from the State Treasury as well as any technology that enhances the marketability of new or current citrus fruit varieties” must be made available exclusively to the Florida Citrus Commission and the Department of Citrus for commercial licensing for 90 days before being opened up to other licensees.

Should the commission use that exclusive license, it must retain exclusive use for eight years. Now signed into law, it would take effect July 1.