FLORIDA IS KNOWN for its white sandy beaches, world-class attractions, and (my personal favorite) citrus. Look no further than Florida’s official license plate, with its image of two oranges and an orange blossom, as proof of its place in our history and culture. Florida has been synonymous with citrus for most of our 500-year history since Spanish explorers landed on our shores. However, without immediate and tangible support, citrus’ place in Florida history might just become that — history.
Today, citrus makes up more than $10 billion of Florida agriculture’s more than $120 billion annual economic impact on our state and supports more than 64,000 jobs. But on the heels of the smallest orange crop in nearly 50 years last season and even lower citrus crop estimates for this season due to a bacterial disease commonly referred to as citrus greening, Florida’s citrus industry is in a fight for survival. With a nearly 500,000-acre footprint in Florida, citrus has a profound impact on so many of our interior counties and the quality of life of the surrounding communities. The industry’s continued decline could have a devastating ripple effect.
Fortunately, there is strong support for Florida’s citrus industry to fight the spread of citrus greening and support research for a cure. The citrus industry, academic institutions, and state and federal governments have invested time, significant amounts of money, and effort to research and test for solutions to this existential problem, but no silver bullet has yet been discovered. In the meantime, we must use every tool in the toolbox to keep the industry alive. For that very reason, we’re rolling out a multifaceted plan to provide Florida growers with more immediate support until a permanent solution is developed.
FIRST, we’re exploring options for a state-level cost-share program that will help the industry eliminate abandoned groves and the associated host material where the Asian citrus psyllid thrives. By eliminating the trees that harbor greening and provide breeding grounds for the psyllid, we can more effectively and efficiently combat the psyllid and the spread of greening.
SECOND, removing diseased and abandoned groves and leaving land fallow is an important element to control greening, but local property appraisers throughout the state do not consistently apply the state’s greenbelt tax exemptions. We’re working to provide clarity and consistency in the law so that growers can make the best land-management decisions without the fear of losing their greenbelt status.
THIRD, we’re working to increase the availability of healthy citrus tree seed and budwood for the industry to replant groves devastated by greening. Our department is charged with providing healthy and clean seed and budwood, and we’re working aggressively to meet the growing demand.
History has proven that Florida’s citrus industry can overcome the challenges that come its way, but the threat that citrus greening poses is unprecedented. By working to eliminate abandoned groves, providing consistency in the greenbelt law, and increasing the availability of healthy citrus tree seed and budwood to replant, we can offer immediate support to the industry. As Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture, I am committed to working alongside growers, processors, and consumers to ensure that Florida’s signature crop remains alive and continues to thrive for generations to come.
article by ADAM H. PUTNAM, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture