Florida’s Citrus Industry: A Balanced Perspective

Ernie NeffHLB Management

HLB
Florida's
Michael Rogers

The Washington Post recently published a “well-balanced article” about Florida’s citrus industry, telling its woes as well as progress against HLB, says Michael Rogers.

“We hosted a reporter from the Washington Post back in July of this year,” says Rogers, director of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Citrus Research and Education Center. “I think they had in mind” that the end was near for Florida’s citrus industry, but UF/IFAS hoped to show the Post that everything is “not all bad,” adds Rogers.

The Post article was titled “The end of Florida orange juice?” It told of the devastation that HLB has caused the Florida citrus industry, including drastically reducing the number of citrus growers. The article reported there were more than 7,000 citrus growers in 2004, but that 5,000 have since “dropped out.”

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However, the article also described some efforts by UF/IFAS to help growers cope with HLB. Rogers says the article pointed out that UF/IFAS researchers discovered how HLB affects citrus tree roots. That discovery about roots “really changed how we have proceeded going forward to manage HLB,” he says. For instance, new fertilization practices recommended by UF/IFAS include “spoon feeding” nutrients to the trees. The article also noted UF/IFAS efforts to develop rootstocks that are more tolerant to HLB. “That’s what we wanted to relay, that there are some reasons to be hopeful,” Rogers says.

According to Rogers, there was a downward trend in fruit yields five or six years ago, but that many growers now see yields turning around as a result of new management practices. “There’s a lot more optimism … I think a lot of it has to do with the partnership that we have with growers,” he says.

Rogers concludes: “It’s not all a rosy picture for us in the Florida industry right now. We’re struggling to stay profitable. Obviously now one of the bigger problems we’re faced with has to do with supply and demand. The prices (for fruit) are dropping.” But he says UF/IFAS’ goal is to keep advancing research to make production practices more economical. “So we continue to work with that goal in mind to provide information or tools for growers to help cut costs and stay in business,” Rogers says.   

This interview was featured in the current episode of the All In For Citrus podcast, a joint project of UF/IFAS and AgNet Media. Listen to the full podcast here.

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About the Author
Ernie Neff

Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large