No Trees, No Industry

It seems there has been a faint song of optimism about the Florida citrus industry these days. With some recent research breakthroughs and a steady chorus of “not if, but when,” it can be tempting to hold tight and wait for a proven HLB-resistant tree to save the day.

However, if you listen closely, there’s another chorus ringing just underneath — it’s faint, yet the message is vital and needs to be amplified. That chorus is “no trees, no industry.”

Simply put, despite the breakthroughs and the “just-around-the-corner” promises we have been relying on to save the Florida citrus we love, the loss of the industry’s infrastructure is far outpacing the rate of replanting efforts. Packinghouses are closing, and the hard-working people who work within the industry are moving on — including growers.

If not addressed, this could push the whole industry to the point of no return. 

Every year we lose vital nurseries that produce young trees that build this foundation. And every year we lose growers at an alarming rate. Getting new trees in the ground should be the top priority of all who are involved in the industry. Newly-planted trees can help guarantee a healthy industry in the future. This can no longer be just one of many needs vying for attention. This is THE need. 

Of course, this does not diminish the importance of other needs we have. But if more trees don’t go in the ground — and if more places that produce young trees ready to be planted disappear — there is a very real chance the industry will be gone before a solution is found.

Tree planting initiatives and assistance programs have not had the expected impact on turning the tide. Growers are appreciative of any resources that come, but a significant portion will go to waste if they aren’t revamped to be grower-friendly, effective, and geared to put trees in the ground.

One new approach recently launched in Brazil is a grower credit line program that could have a significant positive impact to their industry and create a flurry of new plantings. The program was designed to give small growers a new start and specifically designed to be advantageous to the grower. Each grower is eligible for a $300,000 credit line at 3% interest, a three-year grace period before starting payments, and a 96-month repayment period after that. Just imagine what could happen if we were to implement such a plan here in Florida geared toward replanting!

It’s time to stop kicking this can down the road. We must heed the chorus: “Plant now, plant for the future.”

This column is sponsored by Tree Defender, and the opinions expressed herein may not reflect those of CFAN or of its advertisers.

Bio: Tommy Thayer is the co-owner of Tree Defender and owner of Southern Citrus Nurseries, which has been in business since the 1970s. Both companies are based in Dundee, Florida. As a native Floridian, he is a fifth-generation citrus grower who graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelor of Science degree in Food Resource Economics. For more information, visit

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