By Frank Giles
The 2022 Citrus & Specialty Crop Expo was held last month in North Fort Myers. Growers from across Florida and beyond gathered for the event that was packed with educational programming and a trade show floor full of exhibitors eager to display their products and services.
This year’s general educational session focused on some of the bigger issues impacting Florida agriculture and was well attended by growers and industry stakeholders. Here’s a few highlights from the speakers during the general session.
Florida citrus growers have been watching developments with water regulation closely in recent years. The 2022 Florida legislative session addressed some issues that had developed with the state’s best management practices (BMPs) program. Ernie Barnett, president of the Florida Land Council, gave attendees a recap of the new BMPs changes and provided a big-picture perspective of the politics of water in the state.
During the legislative session, Sen. Ben Albritton (R-26) recognized problems with the current citrus BMPs program, including the fact that nutrient recommendations are decades old and based on research performed on healthy trees, not those infected with HLB.
“Sen. Albritton oversaw the passage of SB 1000,” Barnett noted. “What the bill does is allows you as a producer to get a certified crop adviser to look at your situation and develop nutrient recommendations based on your soil types and what your trees need. The certified crop adviser can recommend an alternative nutrient rate based on that individual grove’s needs. Once that is done, it becomes your new BMPs fertilizer rate.”
Barnett noted the legislation also funds and directs the University of Florida Institute of Food Agricultural Sciences to develop new nutrient recommendations for citrus that consider the effects of HLB on fertilizer requirements.
He argued any regulations imposed on citrus growers and other farmers must be economically viable. He added growers have done a lot to improve water quality on their farms and document that success.
RECRUITING TRUCK DRIVERS
Alix Miller, president and CEO of the Florida Trucking Association, addressed the supply-chain strain that impacted industries when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Miller said truckers were on the front lines of the supply-chain disruptions that spread throughout the system.
Miller said trucking faced challenges before COVID-19, namely a shortage of drivers. Estimates show there’s a shortage of about 80,000 truck drivers in the country. Miller said efforts are underway to shore up the shortages with incentive programs and pilot projects.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has a pilot project running to collect data on allowing 18- to 21-year-old drivers to cross interstate lines. Those drivers can currently drive intrastate but cannot cross state lines. If the data shows these drivers can be safe, the administration could ease the regulation.
“The Florida Trucking Association is a partner with the FleetForce Truck Driving School where our members sponsor students and pay for their tuition,” Miller said. “One week after we launched the program, we had 2,000 applicants. As of today, we have 7,000 applicants on a waiting list. This shows the interest is there, we just need better accessibility.”
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