By Doug Ohlemeier, The Packer
Florida's citrus growers this summer plan to prepare for another challenging fall production.
Mike Sparks recently completed his first year as head of Florida Citrus Mutual, the state's largest citrus grower organization. The Lakeland-based group also hosted its third big yearly industry convention in June.
A former Florida Department of Citrus staffer, Sparks, 55, has more than three decades of experience in the citrus belt. At the agency charged with marketing the state?s biggest crop, Sparks worked in a number of areas, including finance and accounting, and market and scientific research, and served as deputy executive director and interim director.
Sparks has a bachelor of arts degree in accounting and a master's degree in public administration from the University of South Florida in Tampa.
He and his wife, Esther, who have been married for more than 30 years, live in Tampa's Temple Terrace area and have two children. Son Robert is a Tampa area lawyer and daughter Shane Messer is a Tallahassee, Fla., lobbyist in the health care industry.
Q: You just completed your first successful year as Florida Citrus Mutual?s executive vice president, and the organization in June finished its third industry convention, which saw a record attendance of 422. What do you think is the state of the Florida citrus industry?
A: I think overall the Florida citrus industry is certainly encouraged, and we're optimistic about next year's crop. We have survived the recent years of the hurricanes that were literally devastating to the Florida citrus industry.
We anticipate next year's total crop will be substantially greater than the last couple of years. And, in total, if you include oranges, grapefruit and specialty fruit, we could very well have approximately 200 million boxes. That's nowhere close to any records, but it's certainly directionally a positive for Florida citrus growers.
Q: Weather experts again this year are predicting another busy year of hurricanes and tropical storms. What are your thoughts on hurricanes and how they could affect the industry?
A: That is another black cloud hanging out there. Certainly, Florida citrus growers have experience with hurricanes. There's nothing you can do with a direct hit as hurricanes have hit us (in 2004 and 2005). Hurricanes are a part of our livelihood and part of our life.