What Remains Unchanged

How many of us in the citrus industry breathed a slight sigh of relief when the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its January forecast and the total count remained unchanged? “At least it didn’t go down,” is what may have crossed my mind.

Is this the state of the Florida citrus industry? It might be easy to think so. After nearly two decades of fighting HLB then a couple of sucker-punches from major hurricanes, I think we’d be almost justified in being pleased with “unchanged.”

And yet, for all the hardships, the lamentations, and the uncertain futures that get talked about, we need to remember that there is still hope for growers — proven (and researched) ways the Florida citrus industry can move forward.

As more growers look to replant parts or all of their groves, reshaping and remaking the ways they go about the business of citrus, the Florida CRAFT program is continuing its research on the five scions that have shown HLB tolerance. The CRAFT program, which was created in 2019, already helps growers cover the cost of IPCs like the Tree Defender as they plant new trees under the program. We are working on a similar role in the federally-funded Tree Assistance Program. 

Planting new trees without an IPC like Tree Defender is just not economically smart, plain and simple. Research has proven that a new tree covered with an IPC will grow larger and healthier and be disease-free longer than a tree that is uncovered. Healthier trees mean healthier fruit with a higher yield, which in turn means a larger financial return.

That is key. The citrus industry still has a huge presence in the financial health of Florida. Despite the losses of recent years, the most recent research shows that the citrus industry accounts for more than $3 billion of direct income and accounts for nearly 14,000 jobs. For every $1 of direct output from the citrus industry, there is an additional 77 cents that is supported throughout the Florida economy.

With this current number being only approximately 10% of the past production levels, just think how much economic value each new tree put in the ground now can return to the community.

The citrus industry not only pays for itself, it helps all the Florida industries as well. This is really what has remained unchanged. 

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 thetreedefender.com

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