Why Citrus Education Is Worth the Connection Anywhere

For the first time ever, Florida Citrus Mutual (FCM) was forced to cancel the Florida Citrus Industry Annual Conference in June due to COVID-19 concerns. It was a very difficult decision, but after close consultation among FCM, our board, and the Hyatt Coconut Point staff, we decided it was the best course of action.

Besides losing the camaraderie, excellent banquet events, and entertainment, the decision meant we would also eliminate the conference’s educational session, which normally draws 350 to 400 people and gives the Citrus Research and Development Foundation (CRDF) a great opportunity to update the industry on the latest scientific developments as well as what is working and not working for growers in the field.

Rick Dantzler, COO of the CRDF, and FCM staff immediately began to ponder whether we could pull off a session via the Zoom meeting platform. Collectively, we all agreed the event is too important, and Rick did not want to miss the chance to communicate with stakeholders.

So on July 22, the CRDF and FCM hosted the first Virtual Educational Session. It drew more than 200 unique participants from across the citrus industry — by any measure a great success.

The top-notch session presenters really gave me a renewed sense of optimism about the direction of citrus research. Citrus scientists are giving growers tools to manage a crop in the face of HLB.

Thoughts From the Field

The session also showed me the depth and breadth of the CRDF’s research portfolio and the tremendous work that organization is doing. By far the most interesting part of the session for me was the grower roundtable and thoughts from the field. Growers Brandon Page of the CRDF, David Howard — who also serves as Chairman of the CRDF board — Larry Black, Rob Atchley, and Daniel Scott, all gave insightful presentations and data about blocks that are producing quality fruit through their focused production techniques and interpretation of the available information.

The photos that accompanied the presentations were stunning. They showed green, dense, healthy citrus trees grown under immense disease pressure. They screamed at me, “We can do this!”

Page manages the CRDF’s field trials, and his data showed our new tolerant rootstocks are really getting it done, particularly US 942. US 942 has clearly become the workhorse rootstock for the industry. Many of the session’s presenters also testified as to the significant, positive performance of US 942. Thumbs up to USDA-ARS and our folks in Ft. Pierce.

Dr. Bob Shatters, a Microbiologist at USDA-Ft. Pierce, presented compelling findings from research into the curative effects of oak leaf extract. Shatters reported he found that citrus leaves treated with this extract showed a decrease in the presence of HLB bacteria. The study also suggests that oak leaf extract increases both nutrient uptake and chlorophyll content.

Although more research needs to be done, I am encouraged that oak leaf extract will provide a unique treatment at some point.

Dr. Christopher Vincent of UF/IFAS reported that red-dyed kaolin clay particle films improve ACP management and reduce disease pressure. Vincent said both red and undyed kaolin films increase growth and leaf water status and mitigate water deficits. Very encouraging stuff.

UF Entomologist Lukasz Stelinski gave a great presentation on psyllid control and integrated pest management. Stelinski has repeatedly shown that reducing psyllid populations improves tree health and yield even if a tree has HLB.

Kristen Carlson gave an update on the CRAFT (Citrus Research and Field Trials) program, which expects to have 5,000 acres planted by next year and should uncover more tools growers can use in the field. This program was built by the industry, FDACS, and the USDA from the ground up and can serve as our test tube in the field for years to come.

As you can see, things are progressing at a steady pace on the production side. Dr. Marissa Zansler, the Florida Department of Citrus’ Chief Economist, talked to session participants about the consumption side and how retail OJ sales have spiked over the past few months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we’ve also suffered a dramatic decrease in the away-from-home market as people stopped going to restaurants and hotels.

I believe restaurant/hotel sales will gradually come back as COVID numbers decrease. So, the challenge for the industry is to ride the momentum behind the retail sales uptick. People clearly still think OJ is good for them! Let’s get sales up, inventories down, and improve grower returns. Then we can get more trees in the ground utilizing the tools outlined in the educational session. Sounds easy right? We all know it isn’t. But from what I am seeing, the industry will get there. As always, please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

All of the 2020 Florida Citrus Industry Annual Conference virtual presentations can be found at FlCitrusMutual.com/about/fciac.aspx, and the CRDF has posted a recording of the session at CitrusRDF.org.

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