Meet Matt Joyner

Josh McGillFlorida Citrus Mutual

Editor’s note: This Q&A was conducted prior to Hurricane Ian striking Florida. After the storm, Matt Joyner said that Florida Citrus Mutual is working with growers in the recovery process and collecting information to aid in any potential requests for assistance.

Matt Joyner
Matt Joyner (Photo by Daniel Owens Photography)

Matt Joyner started with Florida Citrus Mutual (FCM) in December of 2018 as director of government relations. In April of this year, he was named executive vice president/chief executive officer of the association. He tells how his past experience prepared him for the leadership role and details the association’s priorities.

Q: How has your career prepared you for your current role?

A: I spent 18 years of my career working for then-Congressman and subsequently Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in a variety of capacities on the federal and state levels. This experience exposed me to a wide array of issues impacting production agriculture in the state of Florida, and particularly citrus, given the importance of the industry to the state. The upcoming farm bill that should take shape in 2023 will be the fifth farm bill in which I have participated.

I was also engaged in the creation of the Citrus Health Response Program and the HLB Multiagency Coordination Group, as well as in the development of disaster assistance programs following the 2004 and 2017 hurricane seasons.

Additionally, working for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services gave me a depth of experience at both the agency and legislative levels that has been invaluable in my work with the industry in addressing the pressing issues we are facing.

Above all of that, however, probably the best training I have received for this job has come from summers and holidays spent resetting trees, checking irrigation and generally experiencing what growers face day in and day out.

Q: How would you describe your first few months as the head of Florida Citrus Mutual? Any early accomplishments?

A: The first few months have been a whirlwind given the significant issues facing Florida citrus. But the industry, Mutual’s board and, of course, outgoing CEO Mike Sparks have been extremely supportive as I have settled into the position. One of the first major events to take place officially under my leadership was the 2022 Florida Citrus Industry Annual Conference, which was a great success. With more than 500 growers in attendance, a very informative and encouraging educational session hosted by the Citrus Research and Development Foundation (CRDF), and a fond farewell celebration for Mike, it was another conference for the books.

Q: What are your short- and long-term goals for the association?

A: In the short term, my goal for Mutual is to ensure that growers are equipped with all the tools necessary to successfully produce a crop in an HLB-endemic environment. This includes:

  • Ensuring regulatory hurdles don’t impede the availability of new therapies and technologies that show immediate promise, such as peptides and bactericides, currently seeking labels
  • Advocating for continued funding for growers to implement large-scale field trials through the Citrus Research and Field Trial (CRAFT) program to allow us to continue to collect an unprecedented level of data from real-world, commercial settings

From a longer-term perspective, it is critical that Mutual ensures the continuity of important research funding, such as that received from the farm bill. This will keep the momentum moving forward on potential solutions to greening like disease-resistant trees developed through conventional breeding as well as novel techniques such as CRISPR technologies.

To that end, we’re working with our counterparts in California and Texas to meet with legislators from across the country to share citrus’ story and to educate them on the issues that are affecting our industry today. Florida Citrus Mutual has always sought to serve as the voice of the growers, knowing that with a unified message we can accomplish so much more. Now more than ever, we know that we must extend that unity across the Florida state line and present a united front as a domestic industry.

Q: What are the current top legislative priorities for Mutual?

A: One of our top priorities right now is working with leadership at the Food and Drug Administration to secure a reduction in required Brix levels from 10.5 to 10. The process has seen a few bumps in the road, but we’re continuing to move forward with the bipartisan support of Florida’s congressional delegation as well as support from members outside of the state. 

Another priority is the labeling of bactericides and peptides showing promise for the rejuvenation of existing trees. We continue to work with researchers and registrants seeking approval of treatments and therapies, including trunk injection of oxytetracycline.

A third priority is ensuring continued research funding for CRDF and CRAFT. The research supported by CRDF and the implementation of promising technologies through CRAFT are both critical to ultimately ensuring the continued success and viability of the industry.

Q: What are some other focus areas for the association?

A: Along with the priorities listed above, we continue to monitor and be engaged on labor/H-2A, crop insurance and other regulatory issues.

We’re also focusing on grower communications. We’ve rebuilt our website and are in the process of adding more valuable information to it. We’ve increased our presence on social media, and we’re looking at hosting more in-the-field events to increase our engagement. Our grower members are our ultimate priority, and we want to make sure they are kept up to date on the issues and what we’re doing on their behalf.

Q: What would you like to tell citrus growers?

A: I won’t try to give anyone advice on how to grow citrus or run their businesses because they’re the experts on that, but I will say to hold on if you can. It’s been a bumpy ride, and I’m sure there are still potholes ahead, but I have hope that we’re getting close to smoother roads.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?

A: As a seventh-generation Floridian from Polk County, citrus has always been a part of the fabric that makes up the community I was raised in and am raising my family in. It is near and dear to me, and I consider it a privilege to come to work every day to serve an industry I love.

About the Author

Tacy Callies

Editor of Citrus Industry magazine

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