Despite Industry Challenges, Florida Citrus Leader Has Optimistic Outlook

This Q&A is the third 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: Where do you see the state of Florida’s citrus industry in three years?

A: It is going to be better. We have had a tough decade in the industry, but all the money we’ve invested in research to beat HLB is going to pay off in the near future. We’ve uncovered therapies for infected trees in the ground such as heat treatment and antimicrobials, and the next generation of trees will be planted on rootstocks that are tolerant of HLB.

I know of several projects that will result in 5,000 acres of new groves when completed. The growers believe they can raise citrus in the current environment and subsequently they are willing to invest significant dollars to do just that. Standing on a hill overlooking these beautiful new groves, one can’t help but feel a sense of hope amid the doom and gloom that seems so prevalent right now.

Q: What are some steps we can take to reverse OJ consumption decline?

A: Yes, consumption is down, because the marketplace is responding to the HLB crisis. With retail prices at the level they are, we expect sales to decline. The good news is we are harvesting, processing, and selling every available Florida orange, and because of lower production, prices to growers remain high. However, what about the future, when we solve HLB and production levels increase, who’s going to consume orange juice? We cannot ride the supply side wave forever, so we need to increase demand. That means creating value and giving consumers reasons to drink orange juice instead of the myriad beverage options out there. FDOC is on the right path in trying to defend the integrity of orange juice in the marketplace. We cannot have the so-called nutrition experts disparaging our product. We also need the brands to step up and increase marketing once production rebounds.

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

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