The long-term impact of citrus greening is arguably the most serious obstacle our industry has had to face. Collectively, we realize the potential for this disease to destroy the future viability of the Florida citrus industry. In response, I have witnessed intense collaboration from all facets of the industry and believe that our united efforts will enable us to find solutions.
The Florida Department of Citrus (FDOC) recognizes the need to aggressively bring together independent scientific resources external to Florida to provide new perspectives. Therefore, we have enlisted the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the most prestigious scientific organization in the U.S., to help determine the most effective and efficient way to solve citrus diseases.
NAS has access to hundreds of leading scientific experts from around the world to work with Florida researchers. To that end, NAS enlisted more than 60 scientists who met in April to review research efforts to date and identify the most promising areas for future research. While simultaneously developing a long-range strategic research plan, NAS will recommend research proposals for fall funding.
The Florida Citrus Production Research Advisory Council (FCPRAC) and the Florida Citrus Industry Research Coordinating Council are key partners in determining critical research priorities and keeping constituents informed as discoveries unfold. Through the FCPRAC Web reporting system, researchers will post real-time updates for growers to access information and implement procedures quickly.
Ultimately, NAS will issue a report providing a blueprint for sustainable solutions to ensure the continuation of the Florida citrus industry. NAS successfully helped the California grape industry combat and manage Pierce’s disease (a bacterial disease transmitted by an insect vector that causes death of grapevines). We are confident that the NAS research process will unveil actionable steps to battle citrus bacterial diseases, such as greening.
In order to fund this intensive research, the FDOC will shift a significant percentage of its budget from marketing programs to research efforts in the upcoming fiscal year. In the past, 80% of our operating budget was spent on marketing initiatives to grow the market for Florida citrus. Next year, we will spend less than 60% on advertising, public relations, and retail communications.
At the same time, we are challenged to optimize limited marketing dollars to continue the momentum created this year through new television commercials featuring the powerful visual of an orange juice pour punctuated by strong health messages; a light-hearted grapefruit advertising and public relations program to attract young, new users; and retail health initiatives integrated with flu shot programs. We believe that it is crucial to protect and maintain market share for citrus products while research is conducted, and we continue to plan for a future when greening is under control.
We have been reaching out to the entire industry to find additional research dollars from existing and new channels. As the research process unfolds, we anticipate that new areas will be unveiled that require additional funding. We don’t know the total amount of money needed for research, but we are committed to finding the necessary funding. Only through joint efforts with Florida Citrus Mutual and area grower associations will we be able to secure funding to conquer citrus disease. Key public institutions, including the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ Citrus Research and Education Center and the USDA-ARS Horticulture Lab in Fort Pierce, must remain fully funded to conduct the volume of research required to find greening solutions.
The citrus industry currently employs more than 76,000 people and contributes $9.3 billion to Florida’s economy. By pushing forward with the bill reauthorizing the Florida Citrus Commission and FDOC, the Senate Committee on Agriculture recently confirmed this institution’s vital role in supporting the industry, especially during challenging times. I believe that the current greening crisis will be solved through vigorous and sustained efforts. The FDOC stands ready to help ensure that the citrus industry remains a key component of Florida’s agriculture for many years to come.