Seeking Future Florida Citrus Growers

Tacy CalliesScholarship

Florida

By Tacy Callies

The citrus and horticultural science major offered by Florida Southern College made the list in a recent article titled “The Strangest College Majors That Exist Today.” The article, published at cheatsheet.com, included other majors like nautical archeology, cannabis cultivation, pop culture, Canadian studies and comic art.

Perhaps the citrus and horticultural science major seems strange to some because it is becoming more uncommon. Given the citrus industry’s challenges, fewer students are considering growing citrus as a career choice. This is a real problem for Florida citrus growers, many of whom are approaching retirement age while fighting to keep their trees productive and their industry thriving in the hands of the next generation.

A CHANGING INDUSTRY
Laurie Hurner, Highlands County Extension director and citrus agent, has thought long and hard about this issue. “I do think there is a lack of young people entering the citrus industry today,” she says. “Young folks are afraid there will not be an industry in 10 to 20 years. They also are trying in some instances to move away from the family business, not to it. This is a generational change. I cannot blame them; however, now is the time that we need them the most. Their new ideas, fresh attitudes and technology background are crucial to tomorrow’s industry.”

Florida
Laurie Hurner

While some may fear the demise of Florida’s citrus industry, Hurner doesn’t believe that will happen. But she does think the industry will change. “This industry has been restarted at least three times in its history. It is not going away,” she declares. “The industry is going to have to be different, and young people will play a part in it. We farm today with computers, drones, fancy tractors and other equipment. All of these things are important to young people.”

SPARKING CITRUS INTEREST
Hurner helps promote citrus growing with her involvement in the 4-H Highlands County Youth Citrus Project. “We take budding youth, provide them with a tree, a pot, soil and fertilizer and then throughout the year we provide them knowledge about growing the tree and the industry itself,” she says. “I have personally seen young people not know an orange from a grapefruit, and at the end of the year come out of the project with a Grand Champion tree.”

According to Hurner, this year’s Grand Champion tree winner, Cavin Turner, is very excited about the citrus industry and wants to be a part of it. “It looks like his passion and interest are going to turn into an internship or something with a local grower that may definitely blossom into a whole lot more.”

But Hurner believes more must be done to promote citrus growing as a career to young people. “Marketing the industry to upcoming potential growers is an area we need a lot of help in,” she says. “We need to develop a plan and go after these young, inspired, excited folks.”

SCHOLARSHIP FOR CITRUS STUDENTS
A new positive development that is underway to help recruit youth into the business of growing citrus is the FMC Citrus Ag Production Scholarship (FMC CAPS). The partnership between FMC and AgNet Media will award five students $5,000 each on an annual basis. Current and incoming citrus and horticultural sciences students at Florida Southern College and the University of Florida are eligible to apply at CitrusIndustry.net/CAPS.

“This new scholarship is very exciting,” Hurner says. “It is the boost some may need to consider going on and getting a degree in citrus when they may have felt it was out of their reach. Education is so expensive, and I really admire and appreciate the folks behind this scholarship for funding it.”

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About the Author
Tacy Callies

Tacy Callies

Editor of Citrus Industry magazine