(Jan. 25) FORT PIERCE, Fla. — Growers in the world’s largest grapefruit growing region heard how they can try to recapture lost markets and help supply shortages caused by the California freeze.

Participants at the yearly Indian River Citrus Seminar on Jan. 24-25 heard about the viability of Florida’s fresh citrus industry, research into citrus canker disease-resistant varieties and weather trends that call for an active 2007 hurricane season.

Bob Norberg, director of economic and market research for the Florida Department of Citrus, Lakeland, said December through June is the prime marketing window for U.S. orange sales.

“If we’re going to capitalize on what happened with California, we need to do it now,” he said. “We have this window from now to June to really push Florida oranges. This is where we can really improve.”

Norberg said navel imports from South Africa and Australia July through September should arrive at lower prices during Florida’s May-through-September off-season, a factor Florida’s shippers will have to deal with to expand their presence in the marketplace.

W. Cody Estes Sr., president of Vero Beach-based Quality Fruit Packers of Indian River Inc. and grower Estes Citrus Inc., said he doesn’t think Florida has seen the full affect of California’s losses yet.

“There is certainly some optimism in the industry that we will get some shelf space back,” he said. “We have been out of the market for the last two years. We were out of sight and out of mind. I’m optimistic we can get some shelf space back. And that’s what we need.”

Doug Bournique, executive vice president of the Indian River Citrus League, Vero Beach, a conference co-sponsor, said the industry has already seen an increase in sales. This year’s higher quality grapefruit have also helped, he said.

“We are experiencing a rebound high-quality crop,” he said. “It eats like candy. It really does. It’s delicious.”

If recent cool and dry weather in the Indian River East Coast growing region holds, that lack of temperature volatility could extend the season for citrus growers and help them fill increased demand.

“It’s nice to have an economy (here) again,” Bournique said. “We were bageled, or zeroed, in production for two years in a row. It’s nice to have the packinghouses running again, the sales agencies selling and the trucks running down the highways.”

In a presentation on canker-resistant varieties, Greg McCollum, a plant physiologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s horticultural research center in Fort Pierce, said canker resistance screening for resistant varieties has been limited because of a state law that formerly required destruction of canker-infested trees.

“Now that we’re not eradicating, it should provide us information on field susceptibility of canker,” he said. “In this post-eradication era, we will be given the opportunity to start a more aggressive research program on canker resistance.”

Optimism is returning for Florida citrus growers
Carlos Bailey (from left), owner of the Groves of Peace River Inc., a Zolfo Springs, Fla., growing operation, looks at some new orange varieties in a citrus variety showcase at the Indian River Citrus Seminar Jan. 24 in Fort Pierce, Fla. Also pictured are Greg McCollum, a plant physiologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s horticultural research center in Fort Pierce, and Donna Clevenger, a USDA biological laboratory technician.