Editor’s Note: This article was written before Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida and damaged the state’s citrus industry. This article is part of the special 100th anniversary coverage of the Citrus Research and Education Center, found in the October 2017 issue of Citrus Industry magazine.
By Tom Nordlie
What are the current challenges to Florida’s citrus industry? To a casual observer, the answer is simple – “HLB and more HLB.”
But for Michael Rogers, director of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Citrus Research and Education Center (CREC) in Lake Alfred, the answer is, “HLB and more.” CREC personnel monitor virtually every aspect of Florida citrus production and are prepared to address emergent situations at any time. As Rogers explains below, very little escapes their notice.
Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing Florida’s citrus industry right now?
A: HLB will continue to be our top priority until it’s solved, absolutely. We could probably spend the rest of the afternoon talking about CREC’s work in that area. But this is a huge industry, and there are many other concerns. We have a great relationship with growers and they let us know what their concerns are, what they see in the groves, so that we can tackle their problems or benefit from their observations.
Q: Besides HLB, what diseases are high priorities right now?
A: Citrus canker is still very important. Even though you don’t hear so much about it these days, it’s now considered to be permanently established in Florida, so it shouldn’t be overlooked.
Another disease that’s been kind of under the radar is citrus blight, which has been around for many years. Its cause has not been determined, but it’s a decline disease and seems to be widespread around the globe. We are making progress toward identifying the cause, and once we have that information, it’ll be much easier to develop management recommendations.
Citrus black spot emerged recently in Florida; it was first detected in 2010. So far, it’s been isolated to parts of Collier, Hendry and Polk counties, but it will eventually make its way to other parts of the state. This is a high priority because there’s an export issue involved. Some countries won’t accept citrus from areas where citrus black spot is known to be a problem.
Q: How about the availability of water for irrigation?
A: Water use will continue to be an issue. Citrus groves need a lot of water, and Florida’s population is growing. So there’s more demand for the water resources we have. For CREC, this has translated into a lot of work on water-use efficiency and using fertilizer efficiently.
Q: Are there any new regulatory issues that affect CREC?
A: Yes, the Food Safety Modernization Act, FSMA. It’s a whole body of federal law that updates our nation’s food safety standards. It was signed into law in 2011. There are a lot of changes wrought by FSMA, and it has required many of our growers to make changes in the way they do things. At CREC, we’ve been active in helping growers take the steps required to be in compliance with the law.
Q: Anything else?
A: Another issue that we see now, and it isn’t going to go away, is urbanization. How do we farm citrus while housing developments become part of the landscape? How can citrus growers be good neighbors, but at the same time continue to work their groves and stay in business?
This is a challenge that’s a bit different from dealing with freezes or droughts, because here we’re talking about the effects, or the perceived effects, of citrus farming on other people. CREC is a leader in dealing with this issue because so much former citrus land has been converted to housing. We want to create allies and supporters among our new neighbors.
Tom Nordlie is a public relations specialist with University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Communications in Gainesville.
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