News of the citrus industry’s death is greatly exaggerated

05/07/2013 12:38:00 PM
Vicky Boyd

Editor's Note: This is the Field Notes column published in the May 2013 issue of Citrus + Vegetable Magazine.

Not too long ago, I attended an event at a California citrus packinghouse, and some of the conversation focused on citrus greening and Florida. The consensus among the growers, at least at this gathering, was the Florida citrus industry wasn’t going to be around in 10 years.

But talk to Florida citrus producer and nurseryman Doug Holmberg, owner of Holmberg’s Nursery in Lithia, and you come away with a much different picture – a picture of determination and optimism.

And he should know. Decades ago, Holmberg pioneered a propagation system to maintain budwood integrity and all but eliminate the incidence of tristeza in citrus nursery trees. At the time, he was bucking the norm. But the industry eventually came around to see the benefits.

Holmberg also survived the destruction of his Valrico nursery during the canker eradication campaign in the late 1980s.

And those are just a few of the challenges that he has overcome.

In fact, Holmberg is so bullish on the Florida citrus industry that he is returning to propagating citrus trees for the citrus industry. Until recently, Holmberg produced citrus trees only for residential dooryards, selling wholesale.

The dooryard citrus is just a small part of his overall ornamental nursery production that spans hundreds of acres.

Talk to Holmberg for even a few minutes, and you can feel the deep love this former Florida junior high school ag teacher has for citrus.

“Long term, this industry is going to succeed, and it’s much clearer than it was five years ago,” he says.

But Holmberg’s also is a realist and says he knows the state’s citrus industry will never return to the 800,000-plus bearing acres it had at its peak in 1996-97.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture puts the state’s 2011-12 bearing citrus acreage at 495,000, and it’s most likely declined some since the estimate was produced.

Before it’s all over with, Holmberg says he wouldn’t be surprised if acreage dipped into the 300,000s, he says.

Holmberg also admits that citrus greening is a formidable foe for the industry. The spread of the Asian citrus psyllid and ensuing nursery regulations prompted him to erect more than 20 acres of screenhouses to protect the young trees he propagates.

Holmberg also has ideas about how to protect seed trees from the psyllid and greening and at the same time use wasted space in the screenhouses.

As he joked during our recent meeting, Holmberg says he’s still young at heart but has the wisdom that only comes with age to overcome these challenges.

Driving away from Lithia, I had new-found faith that the state’s citrus industry will be around for decades to come.



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