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Florida Citrus is on the road to recovery

Posted at 6:32 PM, Mar 01, 2024

ARCADIA, Fla. — Walking through one of the many citrus groves here in DeSoto County, including at VCH Management, Inc., issues like citrus greening, Hurricane Ian, as well as freezes have plagued the citrus industry in recent years. But finally, they are on the road to recovery.

“It makes it where I wake up in the morning, I am ready to wake up in the morning,” said V.C. Hollingsworth III. “At one time, it was hard to wake up.”

For citrus growers like Hollingsworth, the last 18 years have been extremely difficult, going from more than 200 million boxes of oranges to only 15 million last year.

“I have been through everything and greening is the worst thing,” said Hollingsworth.

HLB Greening has decimated the Florida citrus industry since 2005, but a new treatments are now available. Not only as they are available, they appear to be working.

“The way it works, the bacteria grows in the tree,” said Hollingsworth. “They grow with the tree. They get along with the tree good. After the bacteria dies, the skeletal remains clog up the cambium and phloem, just like our veins getting clogged. Now we have something to on clog the tree.”

But before those new treatments could be put into use, Hurricane Ian struck Southwest Florida.

“Since Ian we have been in clean up mode,” said Hollingsworth.

Hollingsworth lost most of last year's crop as a result from Ian. But now, with the new greening treatments, trees come back stronger.

“10 times different than before,” said Hollingsworth. “Even after going through a hurricane. You can see the difference.”

Matt Joyner, the CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual, says this season is just the start.

“That pain is not unfortunately over,” said Joyner. “We know that it is going to take years to get back to where we were. But if you think about how long greening has been around and what we have been able to achieve in a couple of decades already. It is nothing less than miraculous.”

But now armed with greening therapies, the industry just needs weather to cooperate.

“By in large, this has been ideal growing conditions, and we need a couple seasons like this,” said Joyner. “Let these trees recover and let these trees get back on their feet.”

And for Hollingsworth, he is ready for the fight ahead.

“It’s going to take a lot to come back, but to have something promising to do it, there are still a lot of growers that love what they do,” said Hollingsworth. “And for me, I don’t know how to do anything else. So, I am going to do until the day I die.”