Last week the state budget was finalized, and in it was positive news for our industry. We will see a large infusion of funding and support into our industry through the CRAFT Foundation as well as scientific research, both of which are vital to our future.
Officials in Florida certainly understand how important citrus is to this state. We provide nearly $7 billion to the state economy annually. This is the state telling us that it is invested not just in our survival, but in our regrowth.
This funding will allow scientists and researchers to continue to develop even more diverse methods to combat greening and to test new varieties and hybrids. I wrote in a recent column about the need to change orange juice standards and orange classifications, and this goes hand-in-hand with how scientific research is now going to be able to expand in citrus.
The commitment to CRAFT will help growers with much-needed funding to implement the sciences and technologies that do currently exist to bring back our crops and our groves. Utilizing the methods to fight greening or protect against hurricanes and freezes can be expensive, and growers have had to spend too many nights in recent years wondering how they’ll make it to the next season financially. The hope is that growers can finally start to get ahead again instead of constantly playing catch-up or trying to recoup losses.
There is one place where a cut was made, and that was in marketing dollars. It’s important to remember that the FDOC’s marketing plans, especially the focus on health and wellness, has been a massive boost for us these past few years. They have greatly increased awareness of the benefits of orange juice and grapefruit. They have created innovative campaigns and slogans, such as The Original Wellness drink, which keeps our products top of mind for consumers. Simply put, they have retained and grown our consumer base during these unprecedented times for Florida growers.
Now it is our time as growers to bring this industry back, regain our market share, and continue to show that Florida citrus is the best in the world. Now is the time to show everyone that we’re not just resilient, but we are innovators. We adapt. We learn. We create.
We have made our voices heard, and our leaders have listened. We are still far from a point of celebration, but what we can be is truly optimistic, both about our future and the belief that others also have in our future.
Steve Johnson is Chairman of the Florida Citrus Commission, which oversees the Florida Department of Citrus. He is the owner and general manager of Johnson Harvesting, Inc., based in Wauchula, FL.