After 15 years of fighting the impacts of hurricanes, citrus greening disease, a reduction in acres because of the state’s rapid growth and changes in drinking habits, Florida Citrus Mutual Executive Vice President Michael Sparks said the condition of the industry has gotten “better.”
However, Sparks acknowledged the need for a “robust” marketing campaign and that growers are at a crossroads as they seek state and federal partnerships. That is why this Tuesday, state lawmakers and citrus growers expressed a need to entice people to drink more orange juice and for citrus importers to help in the marketing of Florida’s struggling signature crop.
“I don’t know how many plagues were going to fight, but we’re getting very close to biblical proportions,” Sparks told members of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “All of these issues have put downward pressure on grower returns.”
Similarly, Senate Agriculture Chairman Ben Albritton described the industry, which in Florida employs about 50,000 people, as “standing pretty close to a cliff right now.”
“We’re down, from an infrastructure standpoint, the industry is down to a bare minimum,” said Albritton, a citrus grower from Wauchula. “Essentially, if you get to a place where you have a Pepsi or a Coke or a Florida’s Natural that walks off the reservation, that’s a problem. That is a problem., Nobody is writing an obituary, but we’re sick.”
Production in Florida is up, but the latest issue for the industry is an oversupply caused by processors that signed multi-year deals with foreign growers from Mexico and Brazil. The deals were inked as Florida growers weren’t expected to quickly recover from the devastation inflicted on groves by Hurricane Irma in 2017.