Florida Citrus Growers’ Resolve Put To The Test
Facing what could be the lowest orange crop output in nearly a half century, it’s no wonder the mood was tempered during last week’s Florida Citrus Industry Annual Conference in Bonita Springs.
The crowd itself seemed smaller compared to recent years, which was confirmed by Mike Sparks, Florida Citrus Mutual executive VP/CEO, who said a little more than 600 attendees were present for the three-day event. Last year’s gathering set a new attendance record with more than 800 on hand.
For those in attendance, the message was pretty clear: Commitment is key if the Florida citrus industry is to survive and succeed in the age of HLB.
To that point, during the educational session proceedings, there were multiple references to the term “all in” when describing what it’s going to take to move forward.
Michael Rogers, currently interim director of the UF/IFAS Citrus Research & Education Center, said growers need to be “all in and aggressive with psyllid control,” especially given that the state’s producers have seen a 10% increase in fruit drop over the last three years.
The citrus community needs to be aware of the problems with trying to control fruit drop, Rogers said. “We have to give consideration to how much money is spent on these efforts based on results from past studies.”
Larry Black, Ridge grower and current Florida Citrus Mutual president, said his operation is “all in” and trying all options in the fight against HLB. “There’s no silver bullet on the horizon,” he said. “We have to combat the disease with the tools we have today.”
One operation that is using all available resources is Duda Citrus. In his educational session presentation, Rob Atchley showed attendees through PowerPoint and a slick video how modern technology is not only increasing productivity, efficiency, and filling in labor gaps, but also aiding production issues.
By implementing technology and precision agriculture to help scout and monitor conditions around the grove, Atchley said Duda’s new plantings are faring well. Using data gathered over the last year, he reports (despite a 350-acre grove reduction) yields were level.
Check out the video from the Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Award presentation.
While Atchley’s presentation projected a positive, optimistic light on what many see as a dim situation, summing up the state of the Florida citrus industry best was Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam. During the annual luncheon, Putnam provided a keynote speech that didn’t mince words. “Candidly, I don’t think we’ve hit rock bottom yet,” he said. “And we have to be prepared for that.”
Part of the preparation, Putnam said, would be to expect a different-looking industry down the road. Comparing the sector’s current situation to that of a house that’s burning down, Putnam said a collaborative effort will be necessary to pour enough water on the fire and help lay the groundwork for the future. “I frankly believe an answer (to HLB) will be found due to the innovation of our growers.”