This week on Florida Matters, we're revisiting a discussion on the breathtaking decline in Florida's citrus industry. We're also learning about new farming and research methods that show promise for the industry's future.
In this preview, Florida Matters host Robin Sussingham talks with Mike Sparks, CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual, and Scott Young, a citrus grower from Polk County.
SUSSINGHAM: So Scott, how big is your farm right now?
YOUNG: Well, we originally topped out at about 400 acres, now we’re down to less than a hundred because of the inroads made by citrus greening.
SUSSINGHAM: So what’s it like to be a citrus grower right now?
YOUNG: The citrus grower that is my size is in very choppy waters. The cash flow is the problem, we don’t have anything to come back to bottom line, and that’s what it’s all about. And the disease is horrific in that it takes away your whole cash load within a year or 18 months, it’s just a whole different operation. And the healthier trees that are remaining are still viable and productive, but if any tree had any kind of problem, disease, anything wrong with the vascular system of the tree – they’re already gone.
SUSSINGHAM: So you said you’re at one-quarter of what you were, what, a few years ago?
YOUNG: Absolutely, I’m more like about 15% from where I was because some of the groves have died.
SUSSINGHAM: Have you sold off hundreds of acres then?
SUSSINGHAM: To people who are going to develop it?
YOUNG: No, various people, mostly from South Florida. Some [are] growers, but more than likely it’s going to be somebody who wants a ranchette.
SUSSINGHAM: So Mike Sparks, when I spoke to you last, I think about a year ago, things were looking very grim indeed for the citrus industry. Has anything changed? Do we have any bright spots now?
SPARKS: You know I think we really do. It’s a most difficult time; it still continues to be a crossroads for the Florida citrus grower. Production costs are high, it’s difficult to grow, raise and make a citrus grove productive. And yet there are some good signs. The crop is down – no doubt, 50% of where we were – but last year the crop was down not nearly as much as it was the year before. That’s at least some encouragement that we might have bottomed out or soon will bottom out. Some of the research that has concluded – and is ongoing – has provided some additional tools for the grower to combat the Asian psyllid, the bug that takes the disease from tree to tree. And there’s some encouragement on the tree itself, whether it’s additional nutrients or new root stocks on the way. It’s not going to be the same citrus industry as we know. You’re going to see more trees per acre, higher density, etc. As mentioned by Scott earlier, the production costs are at an all-time high -- two-to-three times where we were prior to Huanglongbing –
SUSSINGHAM: Huanglongbing is the technical word for citrus greening.
SPARKS: – Yes you’ll hear greening, you’ll hear HLB, or Huanglongbing. It’s the same devastating disease that is just a disaster for the Florida citrus industry. So [there are] some positive things that are available, and growers that have to make a total commitment, financially as well as [with] good agricultural practices, that’s what’s going to make it for the Florida citrus industry.