The Future Faces of Florida Citrus

Tacy CalliesScholarship

Meet the four students who received the FMC Citrus Ag Production Scholarships.

From left to right: Ashley Jackson, William Jameson, Tyler Knerr and Amber Newsome

By Tacy Callies

The FMC Citrus Ag Production Scholarships (CAPS) program, a partnership between AgNet Media and FMC, was created to support Florida citrus production and encourage interested youth to pursue careers in citrus. Two University of Florida students and two Florida Southern College students each were awarded a $5,000 scholarship toward their citrus studies.

“I personally was not interested in citrus and horticulture before I came to college,” admits Ashley Jackson, a senior at Florida Southern College. “I always thought I was going to end up doing something with environmental science.” But after she chose Florida Southern College and found out about the citrus and horticulture degree, she didn’t hesitate to select it. “I’ve always been really interested in plants and nature … so it’s a great fit for me.”

While pursuing her degree, Jackson worked at a nursery over a summer and attended Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association meetings. Her next goal is to look at internships to feel out different areas of the industry and learn about various companies.

With no family connections in the citrus business, she isn’t sure where she’ll end up after graduation. However, she says the area that captures her interest the most is research, especially citrus greening research.

Citrus greening, canker and pesticide resistance are some of the biggest challenges in Florida citrus, says Jackson. “More research needs to be done on greening and canker, and it’s something I’m interested in,” she says.

Jackson says that while pesticide resistance is not directly threatening the industry currently, it is something that always needs to be kept in mind. Even if only one person doesn’t properly rotate pesticides, an organism could become resistant, she says.

William Jameson’s decision to major in agricultural operations management with an emphasis in horticultural science was an easy one. Jameson, the son of Florida citrus nursery owners and a University of Florida senior, grew up working for his parents. He hopes his degree will help him become a better agriculturist and further prepare him for a career in the Florida citrus industry.

Jameson contributes to the citrus industry while pursuing his degree by working with the Florida FFA citrus contest. The competition involves students identifying citrus diseases, pests and fruit. He competed in the contest as a high school student, and now he helps coordinate the contest and find samples for identification. Jameson also served for a year as a state FFA officer.

After graduation, Jameson wants to keep his career options open. “I can’t tell you what exactly I want to do, but I can tell you where,” he says. “I want to be a part of the Florida citrus industry.” He says he is open to opportunities in production, equipment development, sales or association work.

Jameson thinks pests and diseases are some of the biggest challenges facing the citrus industry. While HLB and citrus black spot top his list, he says citrus variegated chlorosis “has the opportunity to become very devastating to our industry if it’s not prevented.” He believes the solution to disease control is insect control, including pesticides, pest management practices and better genetics.

According to Jameson, labor cost and availability is another major challenge in the industry. “Keeping costs down is how we stay competitive. The rising minimum wage is a concern,” he says.

Consumer perception of orange juice is an additional area of concern for Jameson. “Orange juice is a luxury,” he says. “People don’t have to have it. It’s something they have to want to buy.” He thinks communication of the health benefits of orange juice is key to enhancing consumer perceptions of the product. 

Tyler Knerr was drawn to citrus because of the opportunity it provides to connect with people through food and agriculture. “The Citrus and Horticultural Science Department provides me a hands-on opportunity to serve people,” says the Florida Southern College senior.

He says food is something most people in the United States have an admiration for. “They love eating and they love understanding how they can grow food in their backyards, so this is a great opportunity for me to really connect with people in the community.”

While pursuing his degree, Knerr thinks it’s important to keep current with all citrus industry information by subscribing to magazines and staying updated on new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences publications.

Knerr says his ideal job would be in grove management, “where I can diagnose different issues and help farmers to better their groves by understanding what’s going on and what the cure can be.”

He believes the three largest issues in the Florida citrus industry are HLB, climate change and the decrease in orange juice consumption.

When it comes to HLB coping strategies, Knerr has some concerns about citrus under protective screen. “There’s a lot of money being put into it, and we’re not exactly clear on whether it’s going to be successful or not,” he says, adding that he hopes the outcome is positive and the risk pays off.

Knerr thinks climate change could lead to more competition for Florida citrus growers, as conditions start to get warmer and warmer, enabling more locations to start growing citrus.

Finally, he sees the decline in orange juice consumption as a challenge. “In the past 20 years, the consumption of orange juice split by approximately 50 percent. The Florida citrus industry really needs to consider the question of why this is happening. It tastes just as good or better as it did 20 years ago, but we’re still losing a lot of people.”

Amber Newsome’s interest in citrus stems from stumbling onto a sour orange tree at age 18 while hiking in a Jacksonville forest. She picked some fruit, took it home and was intrigued by the sour taste. Inspired by her find, she planted a sour orange seed in a pot and has been caring for the tree while pursuing her horticultural science degree at the University of Florida.

“This tree is really what keeps me motivated to try to work in citrus and learn about the industry,” says Newsome, who expects to graduate this fall.

She says it’s heartbreaking to hear some people talk about citrus like it’s dying and that there’s no hope for the industry. “They talk in terms of what are we going to replace it with or what we can grow instead,” says Newsome. “But then I took the citrus elective … and learned that citrus was not hopeless, and most people are just ill informed.” She says there’s plenty of research coming out on HLB-tolerant varieties, high-density planting and other topics that give hope.

Newsome’s goal is to work in the citrus industry after earning her degree. “I would contribute to rejuvenating and stabilizing the industry by simply encouraging farmers to break out of their commodity orange juice mold.” She thinks pursuit of specialty markets could be a solution for small citrus growers.

Admitting she has an unusual fascination with sour orange, Newsome points out that it clearly grows well in Florida. She suggests that farmers produce what grows easily in their climate instead of crops or varieties that struggle. “Now is the time to branch out,” she says, proposing some out-of-the-box ideas like sour orange lemonade or orange-blueberry juice.

Newsome believes intercropping and diversification could be solutions to what she sees as one of the biggest challenges in the citrus industry — monocropping, which is growing only one type of crop on land. She cites a lack of interested young farmers and HLB as other major industry challenges.

As they complete their education, the CAPS winners are poised to take on the industry challenges that lie ahead. “We believe investing in citrus education programs is one avenue to help revitalize the Florida citrus industry after the devastating impacts from citrus greening disease. We are excited to congratulate this year’s recipients and look forward to their future industry contributions,” concludes Ryan Osborn, southeast region business manager for FMC.

About the Author

Tacy Callies

Editor of Citrus Industry magazine