Traditionally, summer is a time of rest and reflection for citrus growers. Our crops have been harvested and we still have months before production begins again. But a lot has changed over the years, and that includes our priorities as we head into these hotter days. Today, it is crucial that we not only continue heightened care for our trees but that we maintain the momentum we’ve gained in research and marketing to ensure our industry has what it needs to move forward.
Fortunately, we have the tools, funding, and people in place to make this happen. The Governor signed the state budget last month, approving the use of millions of dollars in support of Florida Citrus. The Commission approved a preliminary operating budget last week that includes this funding, with $5 million in recurring funds plus an additional $12 million to support domestic marketing programs. It also includes $125,000 in non-recurring funds for integration into the state accounting system PALM, $650,000 in recurring funds for new varieties research, $350,000 in non-recurring funds for the same purpose, and $1 million in non-recurring funds for the development of an HLB-tolerant plant material program.
The Commission will hold a workshop next month, tentatively scheduled for July 13, to discuss plans to move forward with the research dollars provided to the FDOC, including the initiative to support the ongoing research on the Donaldson tree and increase the production of trees that show tolerance or resistance to HLB. Additionally, a Commission meeting slated for July 20 will likely include further discussion. Details of both meetings, including time and location, will be shared in the coming weeks.
On the marketing side, consumers continue to purchase Florida Orange Juice and have shown a willingness to pay a premium price because they know the value it adds to their health. Since its launch in July, the Department’s eCommerce campaign has driven more than $68 million in attributed sales of Florida Orange Juice. That campaign, with some strategic shifts, will continue into the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.
I’m encouraged by the fact that our industry is working as a team on this. We all know what’s at stake and are committed to not only preserving but strengthening the Florida Citrus industry. That dedication was evident at Florida Citrus Mutual’s Annual Citrus Industry Conference last week in Bonita Springs. After a couple of years of hiatus, it was energizing to gather together again and talk through potential solutions to the challenges our industry faces.
As you settle into your summer routine, I hope you do get some rest – we all need it. But I also hope you’ll stay connected to what’s happening in our industry and join us in keeping the momentum alive.
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.