By Frank Giles
Nearly 1,000 attendees gathered in North Fort Myers last week for the Citrus & Specialty Crop Expo. In its 30th year, the event drew growers from Florida and beyond to learn about the latest in production techniques and to see what’s new from industry suppliers on the trade show floor. A few growers from international locations like South America and Europe even made the trek to the event.
This year’s educational program featured a general session that focused on big issues impacting all of agriculture. Alix Miller, president and chief executive officer of the Florida Trucking Association, addressed the supply-chain strain industries have experienced in recent years. While COVID-19 made logistics more difficult, Miller said trucking was a challenge prior to the pandemic. Currently, the nation has a shortage of about 80,000 truck drivers and that is felt throughout the supply chain.
But Miller said efforts are underway to increase the number of drivers on the road. These include recruitment efforts by trucking companies and apprentice programs to draw in younger drivers.
Ernie Barnett, president of the Florida Land Council, addressed the ever-present debate over water use and water quality. While agriculture in the state often gets blamed for water-quality issues, Barnett argued farmers have done more on their farms to improve nutrient management and water quality than other sectors of the economy. And growers have documented their progress through initiatives like the state’s best management practices program.
Other general session presentations informed growers about the various federal and state programs that provide dollars via grants and/or aid packages. Sanjay Shukla, a professor of water quality with the University of Florida, spoke about opportunities for landowners to get paid for ecosystem services like water storage and filtration. Bamboo as a new potential crop was featured during the session. The crop has gained the interest of citrus growers as a potential drop-in crop for declining citrus groves while a more permanent solution to HLB is found.
After the general session, attendees had the opportunity to attend break-out seminars focused on citrus or specialty crop production. In between all the seminars, growers had the opportunity to visit 160 exhibitors on the trade show floor.