By Tacy Callies
The average age of principal farm operators in Florida is 60, according to the 2018 State Agricultural Overview for Florida published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As current growers approach retirement age, who is going to step in to fill their role? This is a question that’s often asked in Florida citrus, especially given the industry’s shrinking size due to HLB.
ATTRACTING YOUTH TO CITRUS
John Gose of Lykes Bros. is one citrus grower who is particularly concerned about the lack of new blood entering the citrus business. “There is not a lot of young people coming into Lykes wanting to get involved on the production side of the business,” Gose says. “We need young blood willing to take the reins when we are ready to retire.” He sees the young people who are coming into agriculture leaning more toward crop protection and fertilizer sales than production.
Some efforts have already been made to entice young people into the business of growing citrus. County youth citrus programs around Florida task FFA and 4-H students with growing and selling their own trees. The Gator Citrus Club at the University of Florida (UF) is composed of students and faculty advisors interested in the crop. Also, UF’s Citrus Research and Education Center hosts an annual Citrus Youth Day to teach 8- to 18-year-olds about Florida’s signature crop. While some strides have been made to entice the next generation of Florida citrus growers, more are necessary.
Recognizing the need to attract youth to citrus, AgNet Media, publisher of Citrus Industry magazine, and FMC are proud to announce the introduction of the FMC Citrus Ag Production Scholarship. FMC, the exclusive sponsor of the program, will award an annual total of $25,000 in scholarship money to five students seeking careers in citrus. Florida Southern College and University of Florida students will be eligible to apply for the scholarships.
“As an active and committed partner to the Florida citrus industry, FMC believes it is part of our responsibility to connect with and support the next generation,” says Hilary Winn, FMC communications manager. “The citrus scholarship program is another meaningful way FMC can have a positive impact on those who strive to find success in their groves and feed the world, and we’re excited to be part of it.”
INNOVATION AND REVITALIZATION
Gose has seen dramatic changes in the citrus industry in recent years and he fully expects more to come within the next few years. “Those with an interest in agriculture and technology will be the ones very important to the success of the citrus industry,” he says.
FMC believes innovation will be key to the survival of the citrus industry. “With the state’s citrus crop currently less than one-third of what it was 20 years ago due to citrus greening, it’s going to require continued innovation to overcome this challenge,” Winn says. “We believe this program can help support that next generation of innovators, help revitalize the face of the citrus industry and, ultimately, help drive future citrus crop production in Florida.”
Gose thinks the new scholarship is a very good step in helping solve the problem of a lack of young people coming into citrus. “I’m excited for the first time in a long time that there will be a carrot dangling to lean people toward citrus-type degrees,” he says.
“FMC values the work of young citrus growers and advocates for the development of Florida citrus production,” says Winn. “We believe supporting students is key to developing an ongoing crop of professionals who want to pursue a degree and career in the citrus industry.”
Details on the FMC Citrus Ag Production Scholarship are currently being developed. Stay tuned to Citrus Industry magazine for more information, including application procedures.
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