Citrus still matters in Southwest Florida

Citrus still matters in Southwest Florida

Written by LAURA RUANE

Southwest Florida’s citrus industry still has the juice, despite tree diseases and a struggling economy.

Gulf Citrus Growers Association, marking its 25th year, isn’t as big as it was in the go-go years of the 1990s. However, it remains a major player in the region’s agribusiness, which produces an estimated $1.6 billion in sales to farmers and ranchers yearly.

One example: Association members helped to pioneer and promote the concept of “citrus health management areas,” which encourage growers to work together to combat citrus greening, particularly through spraying to kill the Asian citrus psyllid insect that spreads the disease.

“It’s neighbors, helping neighbors,” said Callie Walker. She’s association treasurer and a partner in the English Family Limited Partnership, which grows oranges for juice in east Lee County.

In its early days, the association focused on establishing a regional brand for fresh citrus grown, packed and shipped from Southwest Florida. When growing fruit for the fresh market declined in favor of juice production regionally, the association adapted.

“It evolved into an issue-oriented advocacy group,” said Mark Colbert, association board member and citrus general manager for A Duda & Sons Inc.

These issues include land and water use, environmental regulation, farmworker relations, transportation, domestic and international trade and marketing programs.

The association has a volunteer membership that includes growers and allied trades. The region it represents – Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties – still produces approximately one-fifth of Florida’s citrus crop.

A player statewide

Citrus is Florida’s iconic industry, plowing more than $9 billion into the economy yearly, and employing more than 75,000 people, directly and indirectly.

The region’s citrus association took root shortly after the freezes in the 1980s, which prompted a major industry shift from Central Florida to counties south. Between 1986 and 1996, the region’s citrus land exploded from 72,480 acres to more than 179,000.

Southwest Florida’s citrus industry still has the juice, despite tree diseases and a struggling economy.

Gulf Citrus Growers Association, marking its 25th year, isn’t as big as it was in the go-go years of the 1990s. However, it remains a major player in the region’s agribusiness, which produces an estimated $1.6 billion in sales to farmers and ranchers yearly.

One example: Association members helped to pioneer and promote the concept of “citrus health management areas,” which encourage growers to work together to combat citrus greening, particularly through spraying to kill the Asian citrus psyllid insect that spreads the disease.

“It’s neighbors, helping neighbors,” said Callie Walker. She’s association treasurer and a partner in the English Family Limited Partnership, which grows oranges for juice in east Lee County.

In its early days, the association focused on establishing a regional brand for fresh citrus grown, packed and shipped from Southwest Florida. When growing fruit for the fresh market declined in favor of juice production regionally, the association adapted.

“It evolved into an issue-oriented advocacy group,” said Mark Colbert, association board member and citrus general manager for A Duda & Sons Inc.

These issues include land and water use, environmental regulation, farmworker relations, transportation, domestic and international trade and marketing programs.

The association has a volunteer membership that includes growers and allied trades. The region it represents – Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties – still produces approximately one-fifth of Florida’s citrus crop.

A player statewide

Citrus is Florida’s iconic industry, plowing more than $9 billion into the economy yearly, and employing more than 75,000 people, directly and indirectly.

The region’s citrus association took root shortly after the freezes in the 1980s, which prompted a major industry shift from Central Florida to counties south. Between 1986 and 1996, the region’s citrus land exploded from 72,480 acres to more than 179,000.

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