PIECES OF THE PAST: A Look Back at the First Citrus Expo

Tacy CalliesCitrus Expo, Pieces of the Past

citrus expo

Industry members attended the 28th annual Citrus Expo this month. Let’s take a look back to the event’s beginnings.

Known as the Southwest Florida Citrus Expo at the time, the event took place Aug. 26–27, 1992, shortly after Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida. The first Citrus Expo was held at the Lee Civic Center in North Fort Myers, the same location as today. Co-sponsors of the inaugural event included Citrus Industry magazine, Gulf Citrus Growers Association (GCGA) and the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Chet Townsend, GCGA president at the time, presided over the event.

Expo
A page from the October 1992 issue of Citrus Industry magazine shows scenes from the first Citrus Expo.

The late Nancy Hardy and Karen McEvers wrote an article on the new event that appeared in the October 1992 issue of Citrus Industry. The article noted that approximately 1,500 growers, suppliers and industry representatives attended Citrus Expo, and that John T. Woeste, dean for University of Florida Extension, gave the welcoming remarks for the morning seminar.

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The article went on to report that Fort Myers Rep. Keith Arnold told attendees that farming in Southwest Florida was “in a state of change for many reasons: environmental, financial (banks are reluctant to lend large sums for capital costs) and through pressure from development.” He pointed out that the southwest “is the fastest growing area in Florida in terms of agriculture, although the type and focus of farming has changed somewhat: The southwest is rapidly becoming a major citrus-producing area and may soon outstrip other production areas in the state.” How prophetic that statement has proven to be!

Greg Carlton, vice president of groves at U.S. Sugar, moderated a panel discussion consisting of Tom Obreza, soil scientist at the Southwest Florida Research and Education Center (SWFREC) in Immokalee; John David Alexander, citrus production manager with Alico in LaBelle; and Mark Colbert of A. Duda & Sons. They discussed the importance and differences of flatwoods citrus nutrition.

Alexander went so far as to say, “If you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything!”

Calvin Arnold, then director of the SWFREC, noted that of all the production issues in Southwest Florida, “water is the most critical.”

Charles Edwards, of the Florida Board of Regents, announced that the 10th state university was being planned for the area on land donated by Alico, “valued at $50 million, as a gift to the people of Florida.”

But it was these comments from Frank Williamson, Jr., a board member of the South Florida Water Management District as well as a citrus grower, that struck me the most: “Remember that a grove is a habitat, too — a habitat for humans. Just because the consumer doesn’t do his own foraging doesn’t mean it’s not his habitat. Two percent of us take care of that essential habitat which we caretake for all of us.” A fitting description of a farmer!

In his welcoming remarks, Townsend said that he hoped the event would continue to be an annual affair, so I’m sure he appreciates the fact that it’s still going strong almost 30 years later!

Brenda Eubanks Burnette is executive director of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame. Pieces of the Past is presented in partnership with Florida Southern College’s McKay Archives Center in Lakeland.

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