Congressman Soto Visits Citrus Groves and Nurseries in the District
One of the best things about representing Central Florida is the opportunities I get to learn about the amazing, innovative things people in our area are doing. I just toured Costa Farms, Gapway Groves, Agri-Starts, and the University of Florida IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center. The first two have a lot of hard-working growers, and the last two have brilliant scientists. Together, they’re helping feed the country and beautify our gardens.
At Gapway, I met with the owner, John Strang. He showed us trees that are infected with HLB (citrus greening). He also shared with us how the yield per block has dropped but the cost to harvest the block has tripled. Greening causes premature fruit drop and this affects the yield as well, which makes it very difficult to make a profit, and is one of the leading reasons smaller grove owners are going out of business.
Mr. Strang also touched on how grove owners are combatting the greening process by organizing consolidated sprays. This is where the grove owners work together and coordinate their block sprays. By doing this they do not push the psyllid from their grove to the next. This prevents the psyllid from moving from one grove to the next and then back.
At Gapway, I saw the problem firsthand. At the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center, I learned more about the solution. The Center’s focus is 100% on citrus research. They are the largest citrus research center in the world. They are currently working on long-term solutions to greening. It has been determined that it is a root stock problem and the general focus is creating a root stock that is resistant to the disease. Eradicating the psyllid is not reasonable therefore making the tree resistance to the disease is the best method of combatting the problem.
Their research is promising – they are using the crisper method to remove the genes that “light up” thereby indicating they are susceptible to greening. By removing the gene, they can grow a root stock they has shown resistance to HLB for up to twelve years.
I also went to Agri-Starts, one of only a few tissue culture labs left. Being a tissue culture lab allows them to produce contaminate free plants in controlled environments for all types of markets. They can provide these various markets with consistent quality and superior branching in the plants they provide. They supply their customers with edible plants such as blackberries and blueberries, rare plants, houseplants and landscaping plants.
Agri-Starts also works with special needs students with Downs Syndrome and Autism. They work with the individuals and teach them employability and social skills.
Costa Farms is a 3rd generation farmer organization. Being one of the largest foliage suppliers they have an annual revenue of $300M. They have greenhouses from Miami to North Carolina. They have operations in the Dominican Republic as well as China. They employ 4,000 workers and produce brands like Exotic Angel, one of our region's great exports.
Because of businesses like these, Central Florida is growing!