Quarantine by Texas Upsets Growers Here : Farm Bureau Chief Calls It an Economic Barrier

Times Staff Writer

Texas has decided that it doesn’t want any more European brown snails, and California’s growers of flowers and ornamental plants, who did $100 million in business with that state last year, are worried.

Growers from both states will voice their concerns at a public hearing in Austin today over a quarantine that Texas imposed earlier this month. It bars shipments of plants infested with the snail, which is common to both states.

“This quarantine is an effort on the part of a few influential growers in Texas who are seeking to impose an economic barrier between the two states,” charged Henry J. Voss, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation.

Given the presence of the pest in Texas and the absence of any eradication program there, Voss called the quarantine “biologically unsound.”


Ron D. White, Texas’ assistant agricultural commissioner, denied that the quarantine is economically motivated. “I believe it is possible to shut off the snails without shutting off the plants,” he said.

The Texas Department of Agriculture called today’s hearing to gather testimony on how to modify the quarantine program and help determine whether a permanent quarantine should be imposed. Written testimony may be submitted until Oct. 9. White said a decision is unlikely before mid-November.

The emergency quarantine, which requires that all products brought into the state be certified as free of European brown garden snails, was invoked Sept. 4. Uncertified material could be returned or destroyed, and truckers who violate the quarantine are subject to $500 fines.

The quarantine came in response, White said, to one ordered last month by Florida, a major horticultural state that, so far, has no snail problem and intends to keep the pest out. The Florida order applies specifically to horticultural products from California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and South Carolina but also to “any other state” harboring the snail.

Texas Not Snail Free

Several major California nursery growers said they support the Florida quarantine because the state is snail free. But that is not the case in Texas, they added.

White discussed the quarantine last Thursday with representatives of the California Nursery Growers Assn., whose members account for about half of the state’s horticultural trade with Texas. Both sides called the meeting cordial and helpful.

George Hedges, counsel for the association, said an agreement in principle was reached under which the Californians would support a limited quarantine if the Texans embarked upon a program to eradicate the snail in their own state. “We feel we’re getting cooperation now,” Hedges said.

Program Needed

White said Texas will undertake an eradication program. “If we’re to have our people who ship to Florida continue to do that,” he said, “we need to have some sort of program to exclude pests from outside the state and to clean up existing infestations in Texas. You have to proceed on both grounds.”

Nonetheless, Voss maintained in a statement that the emergency quarantine resulted from efforts by “a relatively few growers” who pressured the Texas Department of Agriculture to impose it. The act also harms Texas retailers who draw on California nursery products to round out their sales lines, he said.

That was brought home to Robert Moore, president of Azusa-based Monrovia Nursery Co., the state’s largest. Moore said a longtime retail customer of Monrovia from Corpus Christi, Tex., had called to protest that, in 40 years of shipments, he had never found a snail problem.

White conceded that the quarantine had generated a lot of concern among Texas growers and retailers, too. But some of that, he said, came from California nursery sales people who misrepresented the quarantine as an absolute prohibition on importation of California plants in order to swing sales while products could still be brought in.

“You don’t make friends with quarantines,” White said.

California’s nursery industry--the nation’s largest--accounts for more than 27% of all domestic horticultural production, which ranges from cut flowers to bedding plants, ornamental shrubs and trees. Horticulture is the state’s fifth-largest crop, generating $1.24 billion in sales last year. Los Angeles, Orange, Kern, San Diego and Ventura counties are, in descending order, the state’s leading pro ducers.