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Citrus expo returns to the Lee Civic Center

By Staff | Aug 26, 2015

One of the longest running events returned to the Lee Civic Center this past week, and not many people knew about it.

The 24th annual Citrus Expo took place Wednesday and Thursday for professionals in the citrus industry to see the latest products and technology available to help increase their revenues.

The Citrus Expo is an event that started at the civic center in 1992 and has grown to become one of the world’s largest seminar and trade show events for citrus growers and industry professionals.

The event is held just before the citrus harvest season gets going. And the reason most people don’t know about is because it is not open to the public.

Gary Cooper, president and founder of AgNet Media, which hosts the event, said the event proves to be very educational and required viewing by the growers themselves, since they get continuing education credits for attending the wall-to-wall seminars in Whaley Hall.

“It’s a packed house because they’re hungry for the latest research information, especially on the citrus HLB disease,” Cooper said. “We have research coming out so you can hear a pin drop in there. They have more questions than we have time to answer.”

Growers of all sizes statewide (and from numerous other countries) made the trek to the civic center, which Cooper said is a popular venue since many can take the back roads down US 17 and State Road 31 south instead of the traffic-snarled coastal roadways.

“We’ve looked at other places, but it’s a great spot for the growers. They like coming down here. It’s easy access for those in the heartland in Sebring and Avon Park,” Cooper said. “They do a great job and I don’t foresee us leaving anytime soon,” Cooper said.

Gary Anderson, a vendor for Kelly Tractors, has come to sell at the event for 20 years. He had a massive $80,000 cabineer, which pulls mowers and sprayers and helps with other maintenance in a grove.

“We enjoy it. It’s nice to see the changes in the industry and share with the grower our new products,” Anderson said.

Among the most interesting features at the event was a steamer truck that puts a tent over a tree and steams it for about 45 seconds, which knocks out all the bad stuff in the tree, making it healthier and productive without pesticides.

William Kanitz of ScoringAg works with tree steamers and said they difference in the trees is night and day, and could be the most significant technology to come along in a while.

“The cost is relatively cheap at around nine to 20 cents a tree. You can do up to 320 trees an hour depending on tree size,” Kanitz said. “We haven’t seen clusters of oranges on trees since 2006.”

There was also a record 170 vendors selling everything from juice to big rigs to the latest technology, and the reigning Miss Florida Citrus, Summer Foley, was also on hand to take pictures.

Foley said she was interested in getting involved with pageants and the ability to gain a scholarship and her singing ability.

“I’m thankful I got involved because I’ve learned so much about the industry and had so much fun being a spokesperson for the industry,” Foley said, who won the pageant in March. “I genuinely love citrus. I love orange juice. Doesn’t everyone?”

As for the future of citrus, young men like Brooks Parrish were on hand to volunteer their services to the event.

“A lot of people on my team don’t know a lot about citrus. I’m from Gainesville so there isn’t a lot of it,” Parrish said. “It’s an honor to be able to speak with these representatives and get information about citrus.”