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By Steve Johnson, Chairman of the Florida Citrus Commission

As another season of Florida Citrus comes to an end, it is tempting to focus on the challenges we’ve faced. HLB continues to impact production and solving it must be a priority. But, if my years as a grower have taught me anything, it’s that this industry is resilient. For more than a century, we have produced great tasting and quality citrus sought after by consumers world round. That won’t change anytime soon. And, we have plenty of reasons to remain optimistic.

Gov. DeSantis’s signing of the state budget is the first that comes to mind. Not only did this include $5 million in recurring funds for marketing of Florida Citrus but an additional $12 million as part of the Citrus Recovery Act. These funds will be critical to building on the momentum the Department of Citrus achieved through its e-commerce programs over the last 18 months, especially as consumer behavior continues to evolve. The state budget also included $3 million for the Citrus Research (CRDF) and Development Foundation, $5 million for the Citrus Research and Field Trial (CRAFT) program, $500,000 for New Varieties Development and $7 million in pass through funding for the Federal Citrus Health Response Program.

The more than $32 million dedicated to preserving the future of Florida Citrus comes as a direct result of the commitment of the Governor, who has long been an advocate of our industry, and state leaders, particularly Sen. Ben Albritton, who truly believe Florida Citrus is vital to our state’s economy.

Another positive is the continued success of the Department’s e-commerce program, which this week reached $22.5 million in attributed sales of orange juice since July. This far exceeds the initial goal of $10 million and sets us up well for the coming year.

We also continue to see positive momentum when comparing the latest Nielsen Retail Sales Report with pre-pandemic figures. For the 4-week period ending May 22, 2021, average year-over-year sales of total OJ are up by 6.7% compared to 2019 values with 31.04 million equivalent gallons sold. Average year-over-year sales of NFC OJ, where the majority of Florida Oranges are used, are up by 10.7% compared to 2019 values compensating for the average year-over-year sales decline of 1.1 percent of Recon OJ equivalent gallons sold when compared to 2019 levels.

Additionally, the Scientific Research Department has steadily delivered positive news throughout the last year giving consumers even more evidence-based reasons to love 100% orange juice for both themselves and their children. In the past year alone, six FDOC-funded studies have contributed to a growing body of research that shows moderate consumption of 100% orange juice should be encouraged in children due to its multiple health benefits and lack of negative impacts on bodyweight. In short, this research gives further permission to parents and health professionals to advocate for the positive role 100% orange juice can play in a child’s diet and debunks the myth that OJ is over consumed and leads to weight gain in children. The Department is actively sharing this messaging now.

This research is in addition to studies published in 2020-21 showing the hesperidin in OJ may help lower blood pressure, the role 100% orange juice can play in addressing nutrient shortfalls in both children and adults, and that 100% orange juice had no impact on body weight in adults yet was associated with higher diet quality. Several more studies on OJ or the nutrients in OJ, including ones on eye health, skin health and satiety, are ongoing.

The Scientific Research Department has also been closely following studies conducted by other entities that may relate to 100% fruit juice, such as one showing that labeling regulations are making it tough for parents to make healthy beverage options for their children, and another study that reported lower risks for heart related conditions when fruit juice was substituted for beverages containing added sugars.

Dr. Walsh will present her plan for the 2021-22 season, as recommended by the Scientific Research Advisory Committee, at the next Commission meeting on June 24 at 9 a.m. in Bartow. Commissioners will also vote on a preliminary operating budget for the Department. I look forward to seeing you there.

Originally published in the Florida Citrus Mutual Triangle