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US (FL): State agriculture head wants to keep 'crown jewel' of citrus industry

Some say Indian River County is the crown jewel of the citrus market throughout the world, and the Florida Department of Agriculture wants to keep it that way. State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam was in Vero Beach on Wednesday to meet with Riverfront Packing Co. CEO Dan Richey, and to view the fruit-packing operation that ships 80 percent of its grapefruit internationally. "Agriculture in Florida is a tough business," Putnam said, as he watched machines scan, label and sort fruit. "The pressure on businesses grows every year, and it's the ones like this who have made investments in technology that will succeed." Richey said he was pleased that Putnam took the time to visit the packinghouse, and see the operation in action.

"Our industry is so appreciate of his efforts," said Richey. "He is constantly working to get access for our products in international markets." Asia, including Japan, Korea and Taiwan, has become a strong market for grapefruit grown in Indian River County, particularly a specialized grapefruit with high sugar content. Richey said the sweeter fruit, with 10-12 percent sugar, is in high demand in the international marketplace. "We're adapting to the needs of the changing international marketplace," said Richey. "And through the efforts of our commissioner, people recognize the importance of Florida fruit."

Putnam said that as commissioner, one of his responsibilities is to stay on top of regulations that can affect the citrus market. He is a fifth-generation Floridian who grew up in the citrus and cattle industry and said that gives him a unique perspective about agriculture. "As a state regulator, I can come here and see how the regulation translates into the operation at the packinghouse," said Putnam. "And if the European Union imposes a different standard on Florida grapefruit than it does on fruit from anywhere else in the world, I can see just what the ripple effects are." Florida is committed to strengthening agriculture in the state, Putnam said. "We want all Floridians to have an understanding of the economic relevance of agriculture to their lives," he said.


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