The mantra of the Florida citrus industry is to plant trees. That is easier said than done when HLB threatens to kill them before the return on the planting investment has been recouped. But with production on a steady decline in recent years, new trees going into the ground is critical to maintain infrastructure, while researchers seek solutions to HLB.
Growers are replanting and several new large blocks have made headlines in recent months. New trees coming into production could be one explanation for USDA’s somewhat rosier early production forecast for the 2014-2015 season.
In addition, there are a number of programs aimed at taking the fear factor out of planting new trees. The Coca-Cola Company, USDA, and Citrus World Inc. have put committed significant dollars to incentive plantings.
Have A Coke And A Smile
The Coca-Cola Company made a huge statement last year in its support in the future of Florida citrus. They announced a commitment to purchase approximately $2 billion of oranges produced by new groves they will be backing. Working with Peace River Citrus Products and Cutrale Citrus Juices, the Coke project will enable growers to plant 25,000 acres.
Through the collaboration, Coke will purchase all fruit produced by these trees for the next 20 years. According to a study by the Florida Department Of Citrus, this planting initiative will add 4,100 direct and indirect jobs to Florida’s economy over the next 25 years.
Already several large citrus plantings have been made or are under way as a direct result of the deal, including the Duda expansion. “The Coca-Cola Company is proud to be a part of this investment in Florida and its citrus industry,” said company president Steve Cahillane. “A thriving Florida citrus industry is critical to helping us build our ‘Simply’ and ‘Minute Maid’ juice brands.”
In the past five years, Coca-Cola has invested more than $400 million in its juice operations in Florida. In addition to the planting incentive program, the company has donated $3 million in funds to the University of Florida Foundation to support long-term HLB research.
Tap Into TAP
The latest tree planting inititive comes thanks to USDA’s Tree Assistance Program (TAP). The program is aimed at helping to defray some of the costs associated with infected tree removal and planting. It will be especially helpful to smaller growers in the state.
In announcing the program, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said planting new trees is essential in bucking the falling production trend.
“We must ensure that Florida’s citrus industry can weather this storm while a more permanent solution to this HLB problem is developed,” he said. “The key to the citrus industry’s survival is getting new trees in the ground, and we’re doing everything we can to help with that.”
Florida citrus growers will be eligible for up to 50% of the cost of the removal of diseased trees and site preparation, 65% of the cost of replanting and labor, and 65% of the cost of seedlings. Losses must have occurred on or after Oct. 1, 2011, and individual stands must have sustained a mortality loss of 15% after adjustment for normal mortality.
Under the Florida program, citrus growers are allowed to choose one of the following options for TAP participation:
Option 1: Apply for TAP during any year in which the stand sustained a mortality loss in excess of 15% after adjustment for normal mortality. If the grower chooses this option, the grower would contact their FSA administrative county to report the percentage of trees they wished to replace prior to tree removal. A FSA representative will perform a field visit to verify the actual loss.
Option 2: If tree mortality of 15%, after adjustment for normal mortality has not been met, the grower may accumulate mortality over multiple years (not to exceed a total of six) and apply for TAP at that time. Growers should contact their FSA administrative county office to report greening. Further, growers are asked to document annually (up to six years) the total number of lost trees.
Click here to learn more about TAP.
Citrus World Joins The Planting Parade
Citrus World’s board of directors have voted to support the planting push with its own $10 million tree planting incentive program. The program will provide monetary support as well as an incentive to plant new orange acreage to help overcome the cost and the risk of replanting.
“Citrus World’s financial position has never been stronger and we can’t think of a better way to invest than with our growers,” said Steve Caruso, the cooperative’s CEO. “It is the right thing to do.” It demonstrates Citrus World’s belief in the long-term sustainability of the Florida citrus grower and will help enable the ‘Florida’s Natural’ brand to continue to grow.”