Chairman Johnson: A Beacon of Hope

By now, many of you have heard about the Donaldson tree. Recently rediscovered at USDA’s Whitmore Farms, this decades-old tree is abundantly producing early-season oranges and, despite being infected with HLB, appears as healthy. The fruit it bears is pretty close to what we all strive for today – the size, quality, and hardiness we might have taken for granted in our pre-greening years.  As we continue to feel the impact of this disease in our groves, the Donaldson tree is a beacon of hope. Many years ago, this tree was moved to Whitmore because it had some features of interest to researchers. We may not know what that was, but we certainly know what the interest is today.

We know our partners at the Division of Plant Industry are taking immediate steps to clear any potential budwood from the Donaldson as quickly as possible. We also know replanting is the ultimate answer to our industry’s recovery. I am assured the sense of urgency to really understand the potential impact of the Donaldson on our future is heightened throughout our industry, and that our scientific community is working hard to get us a view of what that might be.

While it is too early to make definitive conclusions, this tree provides hope that an answer is not far from reach. To ensure this, the Commission is taking an active role in understanding the research surrounding greening, production of an HLB-tolerant or resistant tree, the industry’s capacity to recover, and opportunities available to enhance the speed of that recovery.

We anticipate a great deal of discussion on this and all of our industry’s research efforts at our Commission meeting in Bartow on March 16.  Our research leaders will be on hand to brief the FCC and the industry on new developments, and we’ll get some insight into how our Florida policymakers are supporting the recovery of Florida Citrus.

As noted in this Triangle, the 2022 Florida Legislative Session shows that our State leaders are rooting for our success. I am proud to see this response and know that it is largely because they are most inclined to help those who help themselves.

In the latest Nielsen retail report out today, for the 4-week period ending Feb 26, average year-over-year gallon sales of NFC OJ are up by 4.3% compared to 2019-20. NFC gallon sales for the season beginning October 2021 are up 11.2% when compared to 2019-20 values.

On the marketing side, eCommerce results remain strong, reaching more than $45.7 million in attributed sales of Florida Orange Juice since July 1. Our goal of $30 million is long in the rearview mirror.

Growers, as Thomas Edison said, “Many of life’s failures are people who didn’t realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” We are not those people.

I hope to see you in Bartow next week.

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.