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Lee Civic Center hosts top citrus growers

August 23, 2017
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , Pine Island Eagle

Thousands from the citrus industry throughout Florida gathered at the Lee Civic Center last week for the 26th annual Citrus Expo where they got the opportunity to see what's new and talk about some of the challenges, such as greening.

Since it's an industry event, it was not open to the public. But for the more than 2,000 people who attended, it was a great opportunity to get information, attend seminars and look at the latest machinery, pesticides and plant food from the nearly 190 vendors in the trade show hall.

Josh McGill, show director, said it's an opportunity to bring in industry members and show them the latest products, as well as the opportunity to have a good time at a location they can all readily reach, but still has the rural feel.

"We try to keep it a grower's show, which is how our clients like it. We offer continuing education credits, which are always a big draw for grove owners, managers and caretakers," McGill said. "Southwest Florida is the hub of citrus growers and we like to keep it in the woods to keep a grower's feel."

The biggest event was the roundtable listening session with Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, U.S. Rep Tom Rooney and leaders of the industry on Wednesday.

McGill said with greening a serious issue, such an event is important so that growers can gather and discuss what they're seeing in the groves that's working.

"It's been a challenge for the industry, but we're holding strong and showing we're not going to give up. This show looks to be the largest one yet," McGill said.

The show also was attended by Miss Florida Citrus, Rachel Smith, from Gainesville, who circulated throughout the event, handing out flyers and speaking with attendees.

As part of the Miss America program, Smith got to compete in the Miss Florida pageant and made the Top 15 in her fourth time competing. Though she didn't know much about citrus initially, she learned quickly.

"You're really involved and get to meet a lot of the people in the industry, so I've learned a lot," Smith said. "I've been to Bartow at the Department of Citrus, at the Florida Citrus Conference in Bonita Springs and doing a lot."

Jeff Hunter, of Quest Products, was among the 190 vendors. He was promoting a fungicide that covers many crops including citrus and enjoyed interacting with farmers he rarely sees.

"We're part of the greening program. A lot of growers use a phosphate fungicide to prevent root rot. We're more about the actual plant health," Hunter said. "We talk to growers if they have questions. I've been here for 10 years and it's usually for information about our products."

Another vendor had nothing to do with citrus. Cindy Weinstein was with the Florida Pomegranate Association. She said as a specialty crop she was there to promote it for the citrus industry as a new crop.

"California is the third-largest grower in the world. We started in 2011 and now have 200 acres in Florida. We also work in Georgia and Alabama," Weinstein said. "It's been a learning experience. We haven't grown in Florida before but we've seen some door yard trees that have been here for hundreds of years and we know they can work."

Industry leader Mark Giles, of Ben Hill Griffin Inc., said he saw great participation in spite of everything and hoped that he learned something.

"We need to learn about greening. It's a very big problem. In some cases, it's affected growers so much they're losing money," Giles said. "There are innovators out here."

Greening (HLB) is an incurable bacterial disease that depletes trees and can cause fruit to drop to the ground prematurely.



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