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Lee Civic Center hosts annual agricultural trade show

August 21, 2019
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , North Fort Myers Neighbor

The Citrus Expo has been coming to the Lee Civic Center for 28 years, making it one of the longest continually running events there.

Those in the industry love its relatively rural location that is centrally located so those attending only have to travel, at worst, a few hours.

Growers, harvesters and vendors gathered once again on Wednesday and Thursday for one of the biggest trade shows in the industry.

Attendees sold their wares, attended lectures for continuing education and were updated on some of the hottest topics in the industry, from greening to trade, to water quality and even labor.

Josh McGill, manager of events and digital operations for AgNet Media, said many concerns from last year still remain.

"As far as greening, there is recovery, there are people figuring out how to live with it and mitigate it even if there isn't a cure," McGill said. "There are some who haven't been able to stay in the game and have either turned to other crops or sod their farms."

The Citrus Expo, which was not open to the public, fully added a vegetable and specialty crop element this year after incorporating it last year to allow those who have had to stop growing citrus due to disease to continue in the business.

"Growers have been forced to look at other ways to make a living with crops they haven't looked at," McGill said. "We look at alternative crops like blueberries, strawberries and greens to fill some of that void and help them diversify."

Labor has become a hot topic, especially with the hardline stance on immigration by the Donald Trump administration.

Melodie Kincaid, business development administrator at Labor Solutions, said filling positions can be challenging, though most farm owners aren't as concerned about identity as their background.

"Every client is different when it comes to pay and we listen to their needs and policies," Kincaid said. "We have identification requirements we need to abide by with the government. People need to have valid identification such as a Social Security number, green card, passport, working visa. It comes up."

J.W. Lemons, a national agronomist for SQM North America, said another issue is producing stronger plants that yield better and more fruit, especially in third-world countries and that potassium nitrate, a fertilizer, works to do just that.

"There are a lot of diseases in citrus," Lemons said. "We don't need another black eye. People are struggling from hurricanes and greening. We've got so much production here. Using potassium nitrate, which is so available to the plant, it's easy for the plant to take up even if it's stressed."

Among those learning more about the issues was Matt Cald-well, former state representative and candidate for agriculture secretary for North Fort Myers. He attended many of the discussions taking place at Whaley Hall as a private citizen.

"Everything is important," Caldwell said. "You have figure out how to get your crop out of the ground and you need people to do it and make sure you can fight back against all challenges, whether it be disease or trade instability. It's not an easy industry or for the faint of heart. The industry has to invest in the future, reinvent itself and meet the needs that are out there."



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