The Florida citrus industry received a shot of good news recently when the Farm Bill was signed into law by President Obama. The measure contains $125 million in mandatory funding over the next five years for citrus research.
Mutual lobbied to obtain the funding for almost four years, so to say we are excited and relieved is an understatement. Its inclusion in the Farm Bill was truly a team effort by the Florida citrus industry and the members of our Congressional delegation. The bipartisan support was nothing short of miraculous. All should be thanked for their tireless work on our behalf.
The focus now is efficiently getting the funding to deserving proposals. The work to create a streamlined infrastructure incorporating grower stakeholders is well under way. Although money alone can’t solve the HLB puzzle, the creation of a dedicated source of funding gives me a renewed sense of optimism. I hope others feel it as well. I’m going to go into cheerleader mode here for a minute; spare me the pom poms though.
Still A Giant
Despite battling our old nemesis greening for eight years, Florida citrus remains a powerful economic engine contributing $9 billion annually and 76,000 jobs to the state’s economy. We still cover 525,000 acres, dwarfing any other agricultural endeavor in the state. Citrus forms the backbone of many communities throughout the state’s interior. Take a drive down Highway 27 sometime if you want proof. Citrus not only directly supports processing plants and packinghouses, but also ancillary businesses such as banks, truck dealerships, plant nutrition companies, restaurants, and equipment stores. These businesses would have a hard time surviving if not for citrus.
Plus, citrus health management areas (CHMAs) are working. Every report I’ve seen in the past six months by the folks at FDACS say when growers work together to suppress the psyllid they get extraordinary results. If you are not in an active CHMA, you need to get in one. Anything less is a disservice to our industry.
There is some confidence among growers, too. Re-plantings are rebounding, and although production costs are way up, growing citrus can still be profitable at today’s prices. There are several rootstock varieties out there that have shown a resistance to HLB. Thanks to the state legislative appropriations over the past two years, we now have a world-class germplasm and budwood facilities to support the expansion of Florida citrus.
Researchers are making headway toward greening solutions. Antimicrobials are showing promise and we expect one to get approval for commercial use soon. Heat therapy also is getting results on infected trees. So much so, that many growers, particularly on the East Coast and in the northern areas are already engineering tents to implement their own heat programs. What’s great about it is heating your trees doesn’t require any sort of regulatory approval. You can hit the ground running. That’s exactly the can-do spirit I’m talking about.
Growers are proud to produce products that support the economy, taste good, and are good for you. As you know, many citrus families have done it for three, four, and five generations all while facing a number of crises including drought, freezes, hurricanes, and disease. Each time, the irrepressible spirit of citrus farmers forged ahead allowing the industry to survive and ultimately thrive. We will do the same with citrus greening.