Florida’s older citrus trees are disappearing due to HLB and other problems, and the most prominent varieties being grown haven’t changed in many decades. Additionally, many long-time growers are nearing retirement. Those were among topics raised at a recent grower forum in Sebring. Laurie Hurner, Highlands County Extension director and citrus agent, hosted the meeting and summarizes discussions of aging trees and aging growers.
“Gone, I think, are the days where you’re going to let your kids run through 20- to 30-year-old trees that are in a hedgerow in a grove,” Hurner says.
Hurner addresses one grower’s observation that Florida’s citrus industry has unusually old trees and varieties compared to other fruit-tree industries. “The gentleman said that he talked to other growers of other commodities and other commodity group leaders, and we’re really the only fruit crop commodity left that’s working with trees that are 20 years old and more, and varieties that are 20 years old and more, and rootstocks that are 20 years old and more,” she says. “So we are a rarity at that.”
Several growers at the meeting said they would be retiring within a few years. That means younger people must be prepared to take their place, Hurner says. “The youth is the future of our industry,” she says. “We, as an industry, have got to do more to support Florida Southern College and their citrus program. It has dwindled. There’s not much there, but we’ve got to fight to keep that program. It’s the only program like it in the world. We’ve got to support the University of Florida (UF) and their horticulture degrees, and encourage citrus classes and encourage citrus-related curriculum.” A large percentage of Florida’s citrus production managers historically have earned degrees at Florida Southern and UF.
Hurner also discusses the importance of the Youth Citrus Program in Highlands County, where 60 youngsters are growing citrus trees. She points out that some other Florida counties also have youth citrus programs.
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