Fighting Back

Fighting Back

Citrus Task Force Ready to Help the Industry

by J.P. SMITH

Orange juice has historically become synonymous with Florida culture and economy. It’s hard to imagine a Florida without its “golden apple,” as perhaps the ancient Greeks once referred to this juicy fruit. Imagine we will, though, of a Florida producing oranges for centuries still to come. However, to keep that golden dream alive, certain factors and preemptive steps have to be conserved and sustained. 

Specifically, this is what the Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) has in view when considering their mission “to protect water resources, minimize flood risks, and ensure the public’s water needs are met” and assist orange growers and producers in honoring water requirements while saving them time and money. Water conservation and renewable water resources is a top priority for the District. 

The District also acknowledges the invaluable contributions of the citrus industry. According to the UF/IFAS findings in their 2016/17 report Florida citrus brought $7.2 billion to the economic contributions with 50,000 jobs. The District’s reporting from this year shows that Florida’s citrus industry community has contributed an approximate $9 billion to our economy, provided approximately 46,000 jobs, and calculable for 63% of citrus production in the U.S.

Howerever, though vitally important, the concern over water management is not the only item the citrus grower is concerned about. In recent seasons, citrus greening, and massive hurricanes, such as Hurricane Irma, have severely and negatively affected citrus production. Challenges arise in meeting compliance to the water requirements, along with the massive economic shortcomings due to natural disasters that has put a strain on the citrus industry. The priorly stated invaluable citrus contributions and these negative natural impacts against the citrus industry quantify the District’s (and State’s) attention and effort to ensure that these concerns are addressed, with viable solutions provided. 

The District’s faces challenges as well, such as cumbersome recertification requirements, and mandated quarterly water quality monitoring (WUP), as well as, communication between the District and the citrus industry, to name a few. Recognizing the needs of the citrus industry led District Executive Director Brian Armstrong to found the Citrus Task Force (CTF), in April 2018, an initiative that would open communication and create feedback directly between the citrus industry and the District.

The CTF meetings address these mutual concerns of water management and economic recovery for the citrus industry. The District states that, “The main purpose of the CTF was to solicit input from the citrus industry on the obstacles they were facing, and then to determine if the District could reduce any inadvertent economic costs associated with its regulatory and funding programs without compromising the District’s statutory obligations.” CTF is formed and comprised of Ross Morten (Ombudsman), April Breton (Water Use Manager), Chris Zajac (FARMS Program Manager) and Mark Luchte (Agricultural Regulation Program Manager).

Meetings were arranged and systematically conducted by the CTF team with approximately 50 stakeholders from the citrus industry, which included the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), and other industry leaders and representatives, over a two month period. The meetings were thorough in collecting feedback and creating a consensus of concerns from citrus growers and producers. The consensus consisted of 50% of shared concerns expressed by stakeholders during the interviews. 

In January, earlier this year, the CTF produced the “Findings and Opportunities Report,” which details the top 10 concerns from citrus producers and stakeholders and how the CTF is endeavoring to produce solutions and resolve them. From the report issued a consensus of concerns were itemized. Here are the abbreviated “Consensus Items” (for more detailed information please visit the District’s webpage): 

  1. “Frequency of meter testing”
  2. “Options to reduce monthly pumpage reporting costs”
  3. “Data entry system” [completed]
  4. “Update AGMOD” [completed]
  5. “Flexibility on the conversion of permitted surface water management systems to AGSWMs”
  6. “Factors used in determining overpumpage”
  7. “Non-mulched crop 5-in-10 credit accumulation for 20-year permits”
  8. “Facilitating Agricultural Resource Management Systems (FARMS)”
  9. “Customer service and succession planning” [completed]
  10. “Combining of non-metered individuals triggering metering (formerly referred to as small generals)”

Items marked “completed” were addressed over the summer at an Ag Advisory meeting held in June. The other items are ongoing in assessment and proposed solutions by the CTF, with a goal of completion by September 2020. From a press release on the CTF, Armstrong is quoted, “We believe there are opportunities to identify areas of improvement when it comes to our processes that will assist citrus industry customers without compromising our mission to protect the water resources. We are hopeful that some of the changes also will benefit other commodity groups.”

The next Ag advisory meeting ,with continued progress reporting by the CTF, will be held in September 2019. Many thanks to Melissa Gulvin, Susanna Martinez Tarokh, and Ross Morton for their help in contributing the resources and current status of the CTF report.