Citrus Budwood

CITRUS NURSERY SOURCE: New Leadership at Bureau of Citrus Budwood Registration

Daniel CooperCitrus Nursery Source

Citrus Budwood
From left, Ajia Paolillo, Justin Ezell, Steve Hildebrant and Taylor Smith

By Peter Chaires

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) Bureau of Citrus Budwood Registration is key to maintaining a healthy citrus nursery industry. The bureau ensures that Florida nurseries have access to clean, quality, reliable budwood.

It is important for industry to remain familiar with the team running the bureau. Considering recent changes to the bureau’s leadership, Citrus Nursery Source reached out to new bureau chief Justin Ezell for an update. I asked Ezell to introduce himself and his team. The following information is what he shared.


I would like to officially introduce myself and my core team. Ben Rosson has left the Budwood Bureau to accept a role in Tallahassee. I have been appointed as chief of the Bureau of Citrus Budwood Registration within the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) Division of Plant Industry. Over the past few months, I have been taking a deep dive into the workings of the bureau and building a team that will lead us into the future. With the bureau having many different facets and containing four different locations, we decided to build a leadership team comprised of a chief and three assistant chiefs. This model is built to meet the current and future industry needs.

I was born and raised here in Central Florida. I attended the University of Florida, where I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in food and resource economics. I grew up working in my grandfather’s citrus groves. I have been with FDACS for over 22 years. All the positions I have held revolved around citrus. The first half of my career dealt strictly with the citrus groves, and the second half dealt solely with the nursery industry. It is my hope that my remaining years at the bureau will help equip citrus nurseries to address and overcome the unprecedented challenge of HLB.


Taylor is the first of our three assistant chiefs and is based in our LaCrosse office. Taylor is a native of Polk County. She holds a bachelor’s degree in horticultural science from the University of Florida (UF) and will soon hold a doctor of plant medicine degree from UF. Taylor is the biological administrator for the citrus germplasm introduction program and the in-state citrus budwood program. She will oversee all external/internal germplasm testing and cleanup as well as all scion and source-tree testing. Taylor will also have the responsibility of securing additional funding through grants (such as from the National Clean Plant Network).


Ajia is our next assistant chief and works in the Winter Haven office. Like Taylor and I, she is a native of Central Florida. Ajia has an extensive background in citrus with a bachelor’s degree in citrus business from Florida Southern College and a master’s degree in ag education from the University of Florida. Recently having served as a multi-county citrus Extension agent, Ajia has developed a rapport with growers. Prior to her stint in Extension, she worked with FDACS as a citrus nursery inspector. Her prior experience will inform her new role, as she will oversee the citrus nursery inspection program, the entirety of the scion/seed source collections, bud cutting report reconciliations and caretaking of our citrus arboretum.


Steve is the third of our assistant chiefs. Steve will serve with Taylor in the LaCrosse facility. Steve has more than 35 years of experience with FDACS. During that time, he worked in a range of capacities, all related to citrus. He served as a regional supervisor overseeing inspections of citrus stock dealers and ran the office of imports and exports within the Bureau of Plant Inspection. Steve will be our special projects coordinator and help oversee such things as the accelerated budwood initiative, Chiefland repository greenhouse roof repair and a new Dundee greenhouse facility.

Peter Chaires is the executive director of the New Varieties Development and Management Corp.

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