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This week, a delegation from Yamano & Associates visited Florida to meet with exporters and get an inside look at the future of the Florida Citrus industry. The company has been the FDOC’s partner agency in Japan for over 40 years, and in May, the FCC read a resolution honoring the late Emile Yamano, who founded the agency and is ultimately responsible for the popularity of Florida Citrus in Japan. I had an opportunity to speak with the team, including CEO Nina Yamano, about the importance of our products in Japan and all of our international markets.

We talk a lot about domestic orange juice in this industry, and fairly so. It is the history and identity of the state of Florida, and it is a strong driver of this state’s economy. But what’s also important to the FCC is that Florida Citrus products also continue to be recognized globally as the best of the best – premium quality fruits and juices. Thanks to funding through the Market Access Program (MAP) at the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, we are able to partner with groups such as Yamano & Assoc., which in turn allows us to set up unique and creative programs to showcase our products to the world.

Just like our orange juice, our grapefruit is considered the best in the world. Last year, Florida Grapefruit was exported to 10 nations on four continents, and successful retail and food service programs were conducted in Japan, South Korea, France, Belgium, Sweden, Canada, and the United Kingdom. We also saw strong promotion and programs focusing on Florida Orange Juice in Canada and South Korea.

What differentiates our products from other regions of the U.S. and the world is the flavor, premium quality… but also the passion work of everyone throughout our industry. This is why it’s important for a group such as the Yamano team to be able to see first-hand our work and love of Florida citrus, and for us to begin preparing to tell the story of the future of our industry – the optimism we feel and the reasons we feel it, including technologies and therapies, the perseverance of growers, and the loyalty and commitment of packers and processors. The story of Florida citrus’ future will be told soon, and it will talk of how we used emerging methods to overcome.

These are crucial times for our industry. Grower, packer, processor – big or small – we all need to work together and support each other. And we also need to make sure the world stays knowledgeable about our products, and the people behind them. This will ensure that the proper infrastructure is in place domestically and internationally to support Florida citrus as we grow this industry back.

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.