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I am proud to say that from the beginning of the HLB battle…“Gulf” growers have banned together!

This column by GCGA President Wayne Simmons originally appeared in Florida Gulf Citrus News.

FORT MYERS, Fla. – The 2013-2014 season has certainly had its peaks and valleys for the “Gulf Citrus” production region, as well as for the entire Florida citrus industry! I am sure that you will agree…that GCGA has been engaged in representing the interests of “Gulf” growers on many battle fronts.

As we are all aware, HLB/citrus greening has continued to take its toll. It is sad to see once pristine, healthy citrus groves now reduced to rows of sparsely covered trees, with yellow-shaded leaves, across the countryside. And, this disease has been the culprit in the premature fruit drop during the last two seasons.

Our industry is truly in a “tailspin!” Florida’s citrus production has gone from a high of 250-million boxes a few years ago…to 110-million boxes to date this season. This unprecedented crop reduction has awakened all segments of our industry, and to use nautical jargon…“all hands are now on deck” to battle this devastating disease.

I am proud to say that from the beginning of the HLB battle…“Gulf” growers have banned together! Recognizing early on that area wide spraying to reduce psyllid populations was “the” most effective weapon,GCGA formed a “leadership team” to promote the tactic. Your association continues to place the highest priority on fighting the disease. Our leaders organized the state’s first successful Citrus Health Management Area (CHMA) to keep psyllid populations down to slow the disease’s spread. Recently, realizing that the management of more compact CHMAs would produce even better results…we have sub-divided the “Gulf” CHMA into eleven CHMAs, each with a “team captain” for more intensive ACP control. It is through these dedicated efforts that USDA/FDACS grove surveys show that the “Gulf” region continues to have some of the state’s lowest psyllid populations. I would like to thank GCGA’s leaders for stepping-up in the battle, as well as the growers who are participating.

Through the aggressive communications of our grower organizations, particularly Florida Citrus Mutual, our industry efforts in fighting “citrus greening” have also garnered support from our state and federal leaders! With Congresses’ passage of the Farm Bill, and other legislation, over $125-million, will be invested in research aimed at HLB. This funding could not have come at a better time, and will enable some of our dwindling “grower dollars” to go back into marketing to promote orange juice.

I would like to thank Florida’s Congressional Delegation…and most personally, Congressman Tom Rooney…for the effort to secure funding to fight “greening.”

At the state level, I would like to thank Governor Rick Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam for their efforts to secure funding for HLB research. The $7.5-million received through the state’s 2013-14 budget has already made an impact on our “short term” research! In my travels to Tallahassee during the past two years, I have also noted the strong support of our local legislative delegation regarding our industry’s funding requests for “greening” research. They, too, deserve thanks!

All of these positive actions make me more optimistic about the future! We certainly are a resilient bunch…and have been through many battles. Somehow, with God’s grace…we will defeat HLB and/or find ways to live with it!

Another “tool” we have to help us is the UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee. We all know that the SWFREC has been struggling due to funding and leadership challenges! I am happy to report that through the efforts of a unified southwest Florida AG industry…efforts are underway to “revitalize” the center. We are pleased to welcome back Dr. Calvin Arnold, who on April 1st began his stint as the SWFREC’s director. We look forward to working with him to rebuild the center as a premier facility in the “Gulf” growing area.

Our association continues to be financially sound in spite of declining citrus acreage. We will continue to run a “lean” organization, and be accountable to your grower dollars. Through our fundraising efforts, such as our “Country GALA” and “Gulf Classic,” we have met our budget demands.

In closing, I would like to thank ALL our members for allowing me to serve as your president! We can always use more help in dealing with the issues that impact “Gulf” growers! On behalf of your leadership…thanks for your interest and support!