“El Niño sucks.” These were the opening remarks given by Doug Bournique, executive director of the Indian River Citrus League, during the official welcome to last week’s 2016 Florida Citrus Show at the Havert L. Fenn Center in Ft. Pierce. He was referring to the torrent of rainfall and wind that greeted everyone attempting to make it into the building without getting soaked. Looking around the room, not many were successful in dodging the opening day deluge.
The inclement weather was quite symbolic of the current, ongoing challenges the Florida citrus industry is facing. Similar to the resolve being shown in the fight against HLB, more than 800 people (a new Show record) packed the facility despite the forecast calling for continued driving rain with a chance of occasional tornadoes.
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With a $10 billion a year industry at stake, last week’s Florida Citrus Show couldn’t have come at a better time. Last month’s USDA crop forecast is predicting a historically low output for oranges, and the next forecast (likely to drop the crop even further) is coming down the pike fast. The alarm has been sounded, and the sense of urgency among attendees couldn’t be missed.
Nearly 800 participants were provided the chance to circle the wagons and come away with new strategies as well as a refreshed sense of optimism over the course of the two-day gathering presented by Florida Grower, UF/IFAS, and the Indian River Citrus League at the Havert L. Fenn Center in Ft. Pierce.
While the tradeshow area (which boasted its own record number of exhibitors) was bustling, the educational sessionroom remained packed from start to finish, showing the importance of topics being discussed. Covering a range of information that included management strategies, insect control, living with HLB, and promising treatments to reduce or eliminate HLB symptoms, a few sessions stood out as highlights.
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Since the 2014 edition of the Florida Citrus Show concluded in January, much has transpired within the industry to alter perspective on growing strategies, pest management methods, and overall attitudes of those who make up the sector. The most impactful of occurrences being the allocation of $125 million via the Farm Bill over the next five years to help fight HLB. The monetary shot in the arm gives hope to growers and should buy more time in mounting a viable defense against the disease.
At the 2015 Florida Citrus Show, slated for Jan. 28-29 at the Havert L. Fenn Center in Ft. Pierce, HLB-related sessions will naturally pepper the educational program with research updates regarding irrigation considerations, genetically modified possibilities, nutritional program particulars, and potential solutions — to name a few.
Given the dynamic nature of the industry, plus the geographic location of the Show, fresh fruit challenges and opportunities also round out the agenda, including several sessions geared specifically to grapefruit producers as well as anticipated trial results involving protected agriculture production, plus canker and phytophthora primers.
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I am proud to report that the 2014 Florida Citrus Show was the best in the event’s history. We enjoyed a record-breaking attendance of nearly 800 people and the show was buzzing with activity on the tradeshow floor and education sessions. Everyone was engaged on a level that I’ve not seen before.
What came through loud and clear during the two-day event in late January was the increasing urgency to find solutions to HLB. Not to say the citrus industry hasn’t already been alert to the threat of HLB, but last year’s fruit drop and the current season’s drop and small fruit have heightened awareness.
The Citrus Show hosted more than 25 educational presentations — many on HLB. Talks focused on what can be done now and the promise of future breakthroughs to fight the disease. There’s plenty to talk about and it was evident during the event.
One of the drivers of the Show’s turnout is the hunger growers have for information on HLB and what can be done to keep Florida’s signature crop viable for years to come.
The discussion on the tradeshow floor and in the education hall drove home the gravity of what is before us. I heard on several occasions the dreaded “infrastructure” discussion. If we drop to this many boxes, will we lose a juice plant? What about custom harvesters, equipment dealers, grove care businesses? The list goes on.
I was told by a few folks who are in the know when it comes to HLB and the research efforts now in play, we might have as little as two years to find a solution or set of solutions to HLB. You can see why there was a sense of urgency at the Show and is throughout the industry.
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