WEB EXTRA: Q&A with Mike Sparks of Florida Citrus Mutual

08/01/2007 02:00:00 AM

Certainly, we don't want to wish any other area any bad luck, but hopefully, Mother Nature will give us a nice shake and hurricanes will miss our citrus-producing areas.

Q: How problematic could the citrus greening disease become to the Florida citrus industry? How prepared is the industry to deal with it?

A: Preliminary indications suggest it may be even more devastating than citrus canker.

As devastating as canker is, we believe we have the protocols and controls in place so we can implement canker suppression vs. a canker eradication program. There is a way we can move forward with the canker suppression program. Unfortunately, we don?t know that to be a fact with greening. There are things a grower can do. They're costly. Quite honestly, his very grove -- not only the crop, but also his actual trees -- are at stake.

There will be more surveying to look for early detection of greening. Each step of the way will require more grower involvement and, honestly, more costs to the grower. We survived the freezes, we survived the hurricanes and we survived canker. But for those growers that will put the investment back in the groves, no doubt they will reap the financial rewards of that effort. It will be another huge effort by the Florida citrus industry to survive.

Q: Overall, fresh citrus remains a small part of the state's industry. What future do fresh shipments have?

A: Even though it is a smaller part of our crop, fresh is so important.

It really showcases our product at retail. It has a beautiful halo effect on our juice product. We walk hand in hand. Last year, we had some very nice-looking quality fresh fruit. We are anticipating next season's crop to be the same. The whole issue on canker becomes even more important.

Again, the citrus growers are ready and harvesters and the packinghouses all understand the canker suppression program. Everyone here is set for another year where they can participate in USDA's quality control program. There are markets in the U.S. where we can provide consumers fresh fruit, and there are still opportunities internationally.

We are optimistic about our fresh fruit as well as juice for next year.

Q: What do you like to do for fun?

A: I do take a break on the weekend and actually enjoy fishing in the Tampa bay area. I like to get out in the boat often. If I'm not chasing down the citrus industry, I'm chasing down a snook, a redfish or a trout.


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