Chairman Johnson: Moving Quickly on the Donaldson Tree

As our season winds down, the journey toward an HLB-tolerant or resistant tree is heating up. FDOC Executive Director Shannon Shepp provided an update at the Commission meeting this week on a new expedited propagation program aimed at securing low-risk, HLB-tolerant or resistant plant material that can be available to growers as quickly as possible.

The program, which would be funded by $1 million in nonrecurring general revenue funds, pending the Governor’s approval of the state budget, is focused on the Donaldson and other escaped trees. And it’s expected to begin immediately once funds are available. In order to ensure this, FDOC staff teamed up with those at FCM, CRAFT TWG, NVDMC, FDACS DPI, and nurseries to begin the work necessary to bring proposals for agreements to the FCC for approval this summer.

Shannon also provided an update on the progress of propagating the Donaldson tree since its discovery late last year. There are currently 460 tissue cultures in greenhouse with space for 10,700 seedlings, 768 liners planted weekly, and 12 shoot tip grafts grafted. The greenhouse will receive approximately 900 new tissue cultures in the next month. Then work will continue through the next 30 months to bud about 22,500 – 30,000 trees with more trees being continually propagated.

It is exciting to see that work is already underway on something we all are hoping will be helpful in our fight against citrus greening. As we patiently await updates on this and other research, we continue to push forward with promoting Florida Citrus to consumers.

The Department’s 2021-22 eCommerce program has driven $62.8 million in attributed sales of Florida Orange Juice since its launch in July. These efforts will continue in the new season.

On Wednesday, the Edible team supporting FDOC marketing programs presented their proposed plans for 2022-23 to the Commission. Leaning on key learnings from the current year and expected changes to consumer behavior in the near future, the plan focuses on continuing awareness and sales-driving activities with a few shifts in retail partners and tactics to help ensure Florida Orange Juice remains top of mind.

As Dr. Marisa Zansler pointed out in her presentation, consumers are feeling the impact on their budgets with rising prices for goods and services across the board. Total OJ sales remained at or above 2019 pre-pandemic levels this season. Still, the higher price of OJ, declining retail sales promotions, and declining distribution in some markets have created uncertainty in the category as we look to the future. These challenges would potentially block the path to purchase for some consumers, which is why robust marketing programs are crucial for the long-term sustainability of the market.

Fortunately, our industry understands this and continues to invest in and push for programs both on the supply and demand side that aim to tackle these challenges. I’m proud of the collaboration I’m seeing across the industry right now and am committed to keeping it going even as our season comes to an end.

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.