Florida Citrus Industry Annual Conference showcases renewed optimism


WHILE GREAT CHALLENGES continue to beset the Florida citrus industry, a greater sense of optimism could be found among the growers and state officials who attended the 2016 Florida Citrus Industry Annual Conference in Bonita Springs last month.

At least for the purpose of thorough field testing and experimentation, the growers now have the bactericides they demanded with a raucous chant of “We need bactericides now!” at the citrus conference two years ago.

The three bactericides, FireLine 17 WP, FireWall 50 WP, and Mycoshield, currently are being deployed in select groves across the state to see how well they work— in what quantities, mixtures, and applications— to slow the spread of the devastating citrus greening bacterial disease. Approval of the bactericides for emergency use came from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in March. It followed a declaration of a state agricultural emergency and a request by Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam for a “Section 18” crisis exemption on EPA policy that banned the unregistered use of the bactericides (streptomycin and oxytetracycline) on citrus trees.

In just one example of the renewed optimism that pervaded the mid-June citrus industry conference, Harold Browning, the chief operating officer of the Citrus Research and Development Foundation (CRDF), told a group of conference attendees: “I didn’t think two years ago we’d now have three [bactericide] products in growers’ hands.”

An arm of the University of Florida, the CRDF has the primary state responsibility over citrus greening (HLB) research and development of ways to control the disease.

With bactericide field trials well under way, most citrus growers throughout the state are now awaiting instructions on how best to mix them and apply them to their trees for HLB control and/or protection.

A CRDF researcher, Dr. Stephanie Slinski, told conference attendees that scientists in the field are working hard on bactericide discovery, delivery, and field efficacy. She said the research crews want to gather an abundance of “good control data” so they can determine how the bactericides work against greening and even whether they’re going to be enough in the fight against the disease.

In another discussion, Mike Sparks, the executive vice president and chief executive officer of Florida Citrus Mutual, said growers need to replant 20 million trees to get the Florida citrus industry back to its pre-HLP level of citrus production. Toward that end, he said he’s hopeful about proposed legislation that will allow growers to expense tree, labor, and land preparation costs in the first year the costs are incurred. In the true language of optimism, Sparks said the legislation would be a financial “home run” for growers and a great incentive to get trees in the ground more quickly and more abundantly.

CREDIT

column by CHARLES COUNTER

BIO: Charles Counter started in the agriculture business in 1986. He is the Director of Field Operations for the Haines City Citrus Growers Association, managing over 7,000 acres of ag land in Florida. Established in 1909, the HCCGA provides for Complete Grove Development and Management, is a member of Florida’s Natural, and operates as caretaker and packer of citrus, as well as organic and conventional peaches and blueberries. To contact Charles, call (863) 557-0510 or email charles@hilltopcitrus.com.