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Citrus Expo not deaf to water quality issues

By Staff | Aug 21, 2018

The 27th annual Citrus Expo at the Lee Civic Center last week brought farmers, suppliers, botanists and others for two days of education on the hot issues as well as the latest products and fertilizers.

One of the hotter issues for locals is the impact the agriculture industry has had on the quality of the water here locally. While many point to Big Sugar, other agricultural sectors are also being pointed at, including citrus, which also uses lots of fertilizer to keep its crops at top performance.

Josh McGill, show director, said with water quality being such an issue now, particularly here, growers are becoming more aware to the ramifications.

“It takes a lot of water to grow a crop. It’s easy to get fingers pointed at growers when issues arise with the water,” McGill said. “Greening is still an issue, but we’re still growing and this industry is not going to back down.”

Miles Armstrong of Trademark Nitrogen said with all the issues of the citrus industry growers seem confident of a banner harvest this year.

They also are also aware of the impact chemicals have.

“Everyone in the industry is becoming more conscious of how much chemicals and fertilizers are put out and the effects on the environment,” Armstrong said.

Phillip Rucks, owner of his own citrus nursery, said while fertilizer is one of the factors of poor water quality, it’s easy to make agriculture the scapegoat although there are numerous reasons.

“One of the problems is that the population has boomed. Lake O is fed from the Kissimmee River, which is fed by Lake Kissimmee and above that is Disney. That’s growing fast,” Rucks said. “That’s about 70 percent of the problem.”

McGill said the Citrus Expo, one of the oldest annual events at the civic center, gets citrus growers together to meet with nearly 200 vendors who supply fertilizer, irrigation materials, crop chemicals, anything to keep their business running.

“They can also attend seminars to attain education credits and learn the latest research from the University of Florida and the USDA to get the research they need to keep their crops growing,” McGill said.

For the first time, the Citrus Expo opened itself up to vegetable and specialty crop growers and there were plenty of classes and seminars on the latest pests, diseases and alternative crops.

“We wanted to provide them with the same information we provide the citrus folks and also to give citrus growers who are losing acreage alternative options of other crops they may be able to grow and stay profitable,” McGill said.

In past years, greening (HLB) disease has been the main issue, and remains so now, although the trees are being engineered to be more resistant.

One issue besides water quality has been the impact of Hurricane Irma last year, which wiped out nearly half the crop.

Rucks said growers in the middle of the state has recovered nicely, while those to the south and in Lee County may need another season to fully recover.

There were a lot of vendors selling everything from fertilizer to new tractors. But perhaps no booth was as popular at the one for Megan Price, this year’s Miss Florida Citrus and a LaBelle resident. She serves as an ambassador for the industry.

“I grew up in the citrus industry. My uncles are citrus growers. It’s been nice to come back and give back to this community,” Price said. “I’ve gone to everything. I’m going to the annual meeting later in the year. Anything anyone in the industry needs, I’m there to promote the industry.”