Florida Citrus Research Evaluation Process Is World Class

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Mike Sparks_FCM

Five years ago, our industry made the decision to wage an all-out assault on HLB knowing the disease had the potential to destroy us. The war would take place in the laboratory and would be funded primarily by marketing dollars supplied by the FDOC. As Florid Citrus Commission Chairman Ben Albritton succinctly put it at the time: “If we don’t beat HLB, we will not have a product to market. So we must fund the research.”

Over the past half decade, the Florida citrus industry’s research effort has evolved into a world-class process. The National Academy of Sciences was asked to provide a road map. In addition, industry leaders created the Citrus Research and Development Foundation (CRDF), which has become the epicenter of citrus research.
A primary mission was to make sure the industry was squeezing the most out of precious grower dollars and funding only good science that would lead to solutions. Consequently, the CRDF is governed by a board overwhelmingly comprised of growers.

As the process evolved, the Florida Citrus Production Research Advisory Council became the CRDF’s Research Management Committee and was tasked with evaluating proposals. As part of the evolution, the cap on the research tax was raised to 3¢ by growers.

Team Effort

The members of both the full CRDF and the Research Management Committee have done an outstanding job. The complex process of evaluating and eventually funding well-designed proposals is viewed as a model for other industries. Accountability is at the forefront of everything the Foundation does.

Because of the CRDF’s hard work, I am optimistic about our future. I know the unprecedented fruit drop this season caused a lot of stress for all of us in the industry. But the adversity only makes us double down on our commitment to our product — the finest citrus grown in the world. We are a resilient bunch. The growers and scientists working to solve the HLB puzzle are too good not to get it done. At the recent Florida Citrus Industry Annual Conference, growers heard about the promise of new rootstocks, antimicrobials, and protecting new plantings. It was positive stuff.

Trust In Us

You know, not only do large multinational companies like Coca-Cola have the confidence to invest in our industry, but the public sector does as well. Both the state and federal government have invested tens of millions of dollars in citrus research over the past couple of years. The commitment from both the private and public sectors is a testament to our $9 billion industry and the 76,000 jobs it supports; good jobs, employment that support families and communities.

I want to reiterate that one of Florida Citrus Mutual’s highest priorities is to work with the CRDF to help this great industry survive and ultimately thrive in the face of HLB. Everything we do is geared toward supporting the Florida citrus grower carve a future for his current family and generations to come. We will not fail.

Mike Sparks is the executive vice president/CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual.

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