Opinion: Citrus Industry Knows How To Weather The Storm

It seems like we’ve been here before. The Florida citrus industry is once again at a crossroads. Medfly, freezes, hurricanes, tristeza, development… Over the years, Florida growers have faced all of these challenges and bounced back leaner and meaner.

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Today, the list of issues is different but no less challenging — HLB, canker, falling consumption, and a sagging economy.

As 2009 begins, there is no doubt it is not an easy time to be in our industry. With all the issues swirling above the Florida citrus belt, it is easy to predict a “death spiral.”

Well, I’m not about to throw in the towel, and I think everybody should join me in this New Year’s resolution. Our industry is too important, and our growers are too resilient to fail. To paraphrase the incomparable Mark Twain, “Reports of the Florida citrus industry’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.”

Stomping Psyllids

We’re going to whip the Asian citrus psyllid and the insidious disease it carries. In December, Florida Citrus Mutual hosted the 2008 International Research Conference on HLB and we heard encouraging news from the more than 400 scientists from across the globe attacking this puzzle. You read that right: 400! That’s a lot of international brainpower, and it is already helping us.

We are starting to understand the psyllid and the bacteria that causes HLB. Guava, pheromones, and genetics are all showing promise. We now know of effective spray programs that are proven to knock down the psyllid. Eventually, a fungal compound could provide us with a strong biopesticide. Our researchers are too good not to come up with solutions. 

Soaring Spirits

One thing we do know about agriculture and Florida citrus is that we work hard and we are very thankful for what we get. The tremendous positive work ethic in this industry and a promising outlook on life will help get us through these economic hard times. Keep the faith. The other day, I drove down Highway 27 outside of Frostproof and saw acres and acres of resets. It is a good sign that the Griffins believe in the future of this industry.

History has proven that the Florida citrus industry — led by families such as the Griffins — has overcome and survived other pests and diseases, hurricanes, and freezes. Take pride in that fact. Let’s not forget, there are a lot of factors and skill that go into being a Florida citrus grower. I’m not sure the general public realizes it. You’ve got to be one part economist, one part scientist, one part meteorologist, and one part faith healer. But the vast majority of growers love what they do.

The devastating freezes of the late 1980s didn’t stop us. We adapted. The hurricanes did not deter us either. After a very low crop in 2006, we rebounded. We’re going to start moving product soon, and grower prices will rise.

Citrus in Florida means family farms. It is Florida’s signature industry. Those things are too valuable to give up from a historical and an economic point of view. We plan to be here for a long time. Make your own New Year’s resolution to do the same.