This summer, Rick Dantzler was appointed Chief Operating Officer of the Citrus Research and Development Foundation (CRDF). He brings to the position years of experience in leadership positions.
A lawyer by trade, Dantzler was elected at 26 and served eight years in the Florida House of Representatives and nearly eight years in the state Senate. He later served as Florida’s Executive Director of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency.
I asked Dantzler about some of the priorities he brings to his role at CRDF.
1. Still being relatively new to your position with CRDF, what are some of the priorities you are bringing to the job?
Dantzler: I have established a number of goals, including working with the plant improvement team to compile the data from the field trials we have funded, getting that data to growers, and shifting a greater percentage of our research portfolio from basic research to applied research. I want to make sure that everyone connected to CRDF is working together and pulling the wagon in the same direction. I also look forward to working with our partners like Florida Citrus Mutual in educating policy makers on the good work we are doing and why we deserve continued funding. Finally, I want to have a constructive role in assuring growers that we are worth their continued investment.
2. Has there been a shift in focus at CRDF to add more emphasis on applied research, which can have a more immediate impact in groves?
Dantzler: It’s an emphasis I’ve suggested to the board, but it’s really just a natural evolution of our research. When HLB hit Florida, the board correctly decided to learn everything it could about greening, which involved a great deal of basic research. There is still a need for some basic research, but in my view, it is time to shift the focus to applying what we have learned (or think we have learned) in a field setting to begin creating recipes for growers that squeeze more production out of greening-infected trees.
3. Will CRDF-funded research continue to seek permanent, long-term solutions to greening?
Dantzler: Yes. We still believe the long-term solution is a greening-resistant or tolerant tree, and a huge percentage of our portfolio is committed to this goal. The good news is we are getting closer. The plant improvement team has created a wide variety of encouraging new rootstocks and scions, but it’s time to zero in on the best of the best and see where we are. With citrus trees, though, it takes many years to know if something new is going to work commercially. Nevertheless, there is reason to be hopeful.
4. Are there any outside of the box research projects that growers might like to know about?
Dantzler: I recently had a conversation with a company that has a computer software program that downloads plant breeding data and spits out the most likely candidates for commercial success, avoiding the years it takes to grow trees to maturity to identify the winners and losers. This company recently helped the chocolate industry, which was struggling to keep its cacao trees healthy. My hope is this software company can help us shorten, by years, the time it takes to find a greening-resistant or tolerant tree.
5. How can growers get involved or learn more about what CRDF is up to?
Dantzler: CRDF at its heart is a growers’ organization. We exist to help the Florida citrus industry; otherwise, what’s the point? The board and our committee members are the hardest working bunch of volunteers I have ever been around, and we can always use fresh help. We’ve begun having our board meetings in different parts of the state. I’d suggest growers attend one of our meetings and see if this is something they wish to get involved with. We’re also in the process of freshening our website (citrusrdf.org) so that it is more informative and helpful to growers. It is a good resource to keep apprised of what we are doing.
6. There has been a lot of discussion and debate about the role and effectiveness of bactericides. Does CRDF have a position on their application?
Dantzler: The research CRDF has in-hand regarding efficacy is really just a compilation of grower surveys, not something that was tested under the controlled environment of a traditional scientific experiment. And that data is mixed. Some growers believe they are getting a benefit and others do not. Nevertheless, precisely because some growers believe they are benefiting from bactericides, CRDF is sponsoring a renewal of the EPA Section 18 for the year 2019 so that these products stay commercially available.
7. Outside of the research community, how important has growers’ individual work been in fine-tuning production programs to deal with greening?
Dantzler: It is extremely important. A good example is a new experiment we considered recently. It was going to test a recipe of integrated production management systems in each growing region of Florida. When we met to discuss it, the blue-chip growers in the group said they were already doing much of what we were suggesting we test. While it would have been good to have empirical data to support what they were doing, the consensus of the group was it wasn’t worth the money and time to prove what they thought they already knew.
8. Do you believe in the future of Florida citrus and that current and future research will provide answers to the greening problem?
Dantzler: Absolutely. I’m bullish on the industry. Frankly, I wish my family was still in it. We sold our last grove 10 years ago. We were losing money then, but I bet we could make money now. Many growers have already figured out how to grow several varieties profitably, and we’ll get there with the others. Good farming practices, coupled with what we have learned about the disease, is allowing growers to hang on until it gets easier. As long as the price stays up, and consumer demand is not lost, the future