Citrus Community Changing Trajectory On Pests And Diseases

This Q&A is the first installment of six featuring the 2014 Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Award winner Mike Sparks, executive vice president/CEO of Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual. 

Photo by Frank Giles
Photo by Frank Giles

Q: How is the citrus industry shifting its response toward invasive pests?

A: With citrus greening, I think we are looking at the second coming of invasive pests and diseases. If you go back to canker, we thought it was devastating and our most serious challenge yet. It brings me back to all of the programs Florida Citrus Mutual participated in trying to help growers to get payment for those thousands of acres lost to eradication.
Then, here comes greening and takes it to the next level. I’ve often said, if canker is the common cold, then greening is cancer. It put us on a warp-speed research track and made us realize our future basically rests on how well we are able to manage imported pests and diseases. There are other destructive diseases out there that haven’t hit Florida. So regulators and the industry must continue to be diligent with interdiction efforts.
That is why dedicated, significant, and long-term research funding like we secured in the Farm Bill is so important to our future. Research dollars are now available for any citrus pest and disease research. I am confident we are going to whip this greening challenge, but what about the next pest or disease that comes along? Right now it is greening that has occupied our attention, but there’s plenty of current and future production challenges we can’t afford to forget.
The Florida citrus grower has a natural instinct of not looking for help or a handout. But, it is not their fault greening has shown up in their groves, because it came in from beyond our borders. So, this is truly a situation where federal assistance is warranted and necessary.

Q: How do think the public would react to a genetically modified citrus tree resistant to greening?

A: We definitely need to keep a genetically modified (GM) tree in the research toolbox. But first we have to develop one and then we need to get regulatory approval. So it is a long process. We certainly need to keep pursuing it. But I’m more interested in therapies such as heat treatment or antimicrobials that can save trees in the ground right now. Growers realize GM technology is a valuable option we need to keep. As far as the public goes, yes there would have to be an education process. There is a lot of misinformation out there right now. Did you know there is not one published research paper that links GMOs to health issues? Not one. But that is the misinformed public perception. So it would be difficult — but not impossible — to get the facts out should a GM citrus tree become reality. After all, there are other GM foods in the marketplace. The good news is we as an industry have time.

Special thanks to Chemtura AgroSolutions for sponsoring the Citrus Achievement Award.

Topics: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Citrus Achievement Award Stories

Citrus Achievement AwardDespite Industry Challenges, Florida Citrus Leader Has Optimistic Outlook
September 1, 2014
2014 Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Award winner Mike Sparks feels confident in crop sector's ability to regain strength. Read More
Citrus Achievement AwardPositivity Pertinent To Citrus’ Survival, Success
August 1, 2014
2014 Citrus Achievement Award winner Mike Sparks talks politics and the prospects of replanting. Read More
Citrus Achievement Award2014 Citrus Achievement Award Presentation Highlights
July 26, 2014
During the Florida Citrus Industry Annual Conference in Bonita Springs, FL, Mike Sparks was presented the Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Award. Read More
Citrus Achievement AwardCitrus Community Changing Trajectory On Pests And Diseases
July 1, 2014
Florida Grower's 2014 Citrus Achievement Award winner respects the ramped-up efforts to protect the state's signature crop. Read More
Citrus Achievement Award2014 Citrus Achievement Award Winner Has Faith In Citrus Greening Science
June 11, 2014
Mike Sparks, the 2014 Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Award winner, played an instrumental role in securing significant funding for HLB-related Read More
Citrus Achievement AwardCheers To Those Who Make The Wheels Of Progress Turn [Opinion]
May 21, 2014
Florida Grower editor Frank Giles gives props to Mike Sparks on earning this year's Citrus Achievement Award winner. Read More
CitrusFlorida Grower Selects 2014 Citrus Achievement Award Winner
May 14, 2014
Florida Citrus Mutual's Mike Sparks managed a years-long quest to obtain significant research dollars for the state’s signature crop. Read More

The Latest

Citrus Achievement AwardFlorida Citrus Is Here To Stay
December 1, 2014
In the final Q&A with the 2014 Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Award winner, Mike Sparks says he really can’t see anything — even a disease like HLB — causing the industry to go away. Read More
Citrus Achievement AwardGroundwork Set For Fruitful Future In Florida Citrus
November 1, 2014
Progress in research, significant government funding, and new plantings have 2014 Citrus Achievement Award winner Mike Sparks feeling positive. Read More
Citrus Achievement AwardSharing Is Caring When It Comes To Curing Citrus Greeni…
October 1, 2014
Mike Sparks, 2014 Citrus Achievement Award winner, says being open with peers about what's working and not working is crucial in managing HLB. Read More
Citrus Achievement AwardDespite Industry Challenges, Florida Citrus Leader Has …
September 1, 2014
2014 Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Award winner Mike Sparks feels confident in crop sector's ability to regain strength. Read More
Citrus Achievement AwardPositivity Pertinent To Citrus’ Survival, Success
August 1, 2014
2014 Citrus Achievement Award winner Mike Sparks talks politics and the prospects of replanting. Read More
Citrus Achievement Award2014 Citrus Achievement Award Presentation Highlights
July 26, 2014
During the Florida Citrus Industry Annual Conference in Bonita Springs, FL, Mike Sparks was presented the Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Award. Read More
Citrus Achievement AwardCitrus Community Changing Trajectory On Pests And Disea…
July 1, 2014
Florida Grower's 2014 Citrus Achievement Award winner respects the ramped-up efforts to protect the state's signature crop. Read More
Citrus Achievement Award2014 Citrus Achievement Award Winner Has Faith In Citru…
June 11, 2014
Mike Sparks, the 2014 Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Award winner, played an instrumental role in securing significant funding for HLB-related Read More
Citrus Achievement AwardCheers To Those Who Make The Wheels Of Progress Turn [O…
May 21, 2014
Florida Grower editor Frank Giles gives props to Mike Sparks on earning this year's Citrus Achievement Award winner. Read More
CitrusFlorida Grower Selects 2014 Citrus Achievement Award Wi…
May 14, 2014
Florida Citrus Mutual's Mike Sparks managed a years-long quest to obtain significant research dollars for the state’s signature crop. Read More
Citrus Achievement AwardFarm Labor, Mentoring Top Priorities For Citrus Achieve…
December 1, 2013
Bobby Barben knows the importance of working through political issues and nurturing the next generation of growers. Read More
CitrusHLB Advice For California Citrus Growers
November 1, 2013
2013 Citrus Achievement Award winner Bobby Barben says western growers can learn from Florida's mistakes. Read More
CitrusKeeping Citrus Trees Stress-Free Key To Fruitful 2014
October 1, 2013
Bobby Barben, 2013 Citrus Achievement Award winner, is anxiously looking ahead to the upcoming season. Read More
CitrusKnowledge, Patience, Money Needed To Nurture Citrus Res…
August 30, 2013
Editor’s Note: This Q&A feature is the third in series of six with the 2013 Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Award Read More
Citrus Achievement AwardDissecting Citrus Fruit Drop And What To Do Next Season
August 1, 2013
Editor’s Note: This Q&A feature is the second a in series of six with the 2013 Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Read More
CitrusBobby Barben Takes Home Citrus Achievement Award Trophy
July 30, 2013
The 2013 Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Award winner Bobby Barben was honored during a special ceremony at the annual Citrus Read More
CitrusFlorida Citrus Community Goes All In Against HLB
June 17, 2013
If there is indeed strength in numbers, then the Florida citrus industry should be in good position to take on Read More
CitrusHLB Research Innovation And Frustrations Go Hand In Han…
June 14, 2013
Editor’s Note: This is the first in series of six Q&As with the 2013 Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Award winner Read More