This Q&A is the second installment of six featuring the 2014 Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Award winner Mike Sparks, executive vice president/CEO of Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual.
Q: When you began more political work in your role at Florida Citrus Mutual, were there any surprises?
A: Citrus is Florida’s signature crop and it is a $9 billion industry representing 76,000 jobs in the state, so I just assumed that lawmakers would be supportive of our needs and requests. That’s not always a given, and there is a lot of hard work that goes on with legislators in Tallahassee and Washington, DC, to ensure they are educated about what we need.
We have a great staff at Mutual that is a key resource to help ensure we take a leadership role on issues important to our growers in the state’s 32 citrus producing counties. Another critical resource is Mutual’s board of directors. Right there, you have 21 people who we can tap into during board meetings and conference calls to get a real-time snapshot of the industry. All of these resources and people were critical in the campaign to secure long-term and significant research funding of $125 million in the 2014 Farm Bill.
Q: Are you encouraged more growers are replanting?
A: Yes. HLB is a huge challenge. If it was a freeze or hurricane, growers knew they could replant and reap the benefits from the cost and effort to replant. With HLB, there are the lingering questions. If I replant, how do I know the trees will survive long enough to become productive and provide a return on my investment? How do I beat the psyllid back?
I think now with the massive research effort under way to find solutions to HLB and the fact that some influential growers are taking the lead with large plantings, it is giving other growers more confidence in replanting, which is critical to the future of this industry.
Special thanks to Chemtura AgroSolutions for sponsoring the Citrus Achievement Award.