As the Florida Department of Citrus turns 80 years old, the industry it represents is fighting for its survival. The insect-borne disease of citrus greening is devastating groves statewide.
David Steele, the Director of Public Relations for the Department of Citrus, spoke with WUSF's Robin Sussingham about the challenges that citrus greening poses to the state's iconic crop. Steele says that every aspect of the citrus industry is under attack because of greening, resulting in the lowest production levels in his lifetime. But there's always reason to hope, he says:
"The industry has a long history of facing challenges and coming back. And that has sometimes been disease, it has sometimes been weather related -- whether we're talking about hurricanes or frost -- they've dealt with blight and canker, and they always found a way to come back. We just don't know what that path out will be."
He says that the Department of Citrus is in an "interesting" situation, trying to sell more orange juice even as the crop shrinks. Steele says they will continue to focus on the nutritional value of the drink.
Steele says that the citrus industry is important to the state's economy, and also to its identity. "There's an important cultural component [to the citrus industry]...it's on our license plates for a reason."