This Q&A is the final installment of six featuring the 2014 Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Award winner Mike Sparks, executive vice president/CEO of Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual.
What are three reasons for optimism for Florida’s citrus industry going into the future?
A: Growers across the board are a resilient bunch, and the commercial citrus industry has not only survived, but thrived in Florida for more than a century, so I really can’t see anything — even a disease like HLB — causing it to go away. We produce a terrific product that is healthy and tastes good. Consumers want it. People realize how important a healthy agriculture industry is to not only Florida, but the entire U.S. Policymakers are and will continue to respond accordingly from a regulatory standpoint. Just as the bumper sticker says, “No Farmers, No Food.”
In the public outreach HLB campaign, what are the next steps?
A: To get some success stories out there. We have made tremendous progress in both the laboratory and field in managing this disease and we need to let people know it is not all doom and gloom. We plan to be here a long time.
Any parting words for our readers?
A: There is significant investment going into this industry right now. I know of projects putting in thousands of acres relying on advanced, progressive production techniques to keep the trees alive. Standing on a hill overlooking these new plantings is really quite a sight. So despite battling greening, 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 Florida. Citrus forms the backbone of many communities throughout the state’s interior. Citrus directly supports processing plants and packinghouses but ancillary businesses such as banks, truck dealerships, plant nutrition companies, restaurants, and equipment stores would have a hard time surviving if it were not for citrus.