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This citrus season has provided another set of challenges, but in true fashion to everyone in our industry, your resiliency has shone through.

Last week, I appeared before the State House Agriculture, Conservation & Resiliency Subcommittee to speak about these challenges, and also about our successes and optimism for the future – both short and long-term. There is genuine concern and care from those in Tallahassee about our industry and the people within it, as well as the ways in which assistance is needed. They understand how vital this industry is to Florida and agriculture in general. Because of this they are working to find solutions on a state and federal level.

We are working alongside Florida Citrus Mutual and other industry leaders and elected officials to help ensure Florida citrus growers have the assistance necessary while we continue to replant and rebuild. I know federal aid is something everyone in this industry is keeping a close eye on.

Rep. Scott Franklin introduced a bill two weeks ago, the Block Grant Assistance Act of 2023, that aims to streamline the process of providing relief to growers. The bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in the House and Marco Rubio in the Senate and it has garnered bipartisan support from both chambers of Congress.

From Tallahassee to Washington, D.C., we are seeing through the actions of our elected leaders a true understanding of the urgency of state and federal aid. I am seeing more of our growers meeting with legislators. I am seeing more of our growers speaking to media members and telling our story… and it’s working. People are noticing us, not just because the weather-related events that have impacted our industry, but also because of the resiliency of everyone in the citrus family and our ability to continue to produce world-class quality products in the face of adversity.

The FDOC-funded Economic Contributions study conducted by UF/IFAS was presented by Dr. Christa Court earlier this week on a webinar. Our industry as a whole contributes $6.9 billion to the Florida economy. Broken up, our direct contributions total $3.91 billion, and our indirect (goods and services such as fertilizer, tires, insurance, etc…) and induced (how wages are spent on things such as food and housing) contributions total $3.03 billion. I encourage everyone to watch this webinar through the FDOC’s website to gain a deeper understanding of the positive impact you have in Florida and in your communities.

Marketing programs at the FDOC continue to help keep our products at the top of consumer minds through innovative measures. E-commerce sales of orange juice domestically have far exceeded the goal of $40 million with still over four months left in the fiscal year. Winter Wellness campaigns were highly successful, and drove sales online and in stores. It’s a promising sign that consumers are more excited than ever about what we produce.

I have also seen a rise in community impacts throughout the industry, and these will be important as we continue to bring in new talent and educate our communities about our work. The Highlands Youth Citrus Project has been a very successful program, and Natalie’s recently became the sponsor of the Florida State Parks Junior Ranger Program. A number of County Farm Bureaus are directly involved with teaching youth about agriculture and citrus. I am hearing more and more stories of our growers visiting schools and speaking with youth about our work and the sciences involved in it. These are truly impactful ways of positively highlighting this industry.

This is who we are. As growers, processors, packers, field workers, and everyone in between that makes this industry run – we face challenges head on, adapt, and work together to conquer them. We find ways to give back and help our communities as well as our brothers and sisters in the citrus industry. To steal a sports analogy – we may wear different jerseys, but we’re all on the same team. Now more than ever, we must be united in our cause and 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.