Citrus Expo returns to civic center
After a year off because of the pandemic, one of the oldest events returned to the Lee Civic Center this past week when the Citrus Expo held its two-day event.
The Citrus Expo, which is a trade show and not open to the general public, provides growers and the commercial entities that help support them an opportunity to network, get their continuing education credits and learn about the latest news in the citrus industry from guest speakers.
Josh McGill, director of Strategic Development at AgNet, the media company that holds the event, said everyone was excited to be back after having to put on the show virtually last year.
“The exhibitors and the sponsors are happy to be back and meet with the growers,” McGill said. “Attendance is slightly down, but with everything going on in the world right now, that’s to be expected.”
McGill said pre-registration was among the best ever, but as the Delta variant has swept across the state, some of those who registered decided to stay home.
It was certainly better than last year, when the event was cancelled one month before it was set to be held. McGill said they held off on cancellation as long as they could, but eventually decided to pull the plug.
“For everyone it was kind of a guessing game on what the future was going to hold. We had to make a late decision in June to cancel it,” McGill said. “We had to transition to a virtual event and most of the vendor and exhibitors turned around and helped convert and with the University of Florida speakers and were able to put on a good event.”
With greening still a problem and fewer new people getting into citrus, the show has expanded to include vegetables and specialty crops in recent years to help stay relevant.
Vendors and state agencies were happy to be back live. Kirby Quam, of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said he was happy to be at an in-person event.
“It’s great hanging out and being with everybody. It’s been great,” Quam said. “My role is produce safety and outreach, so all our trainings have been virtual. It’s nice to see them face to face.”
“There’s nothing like one-on-one, seeing old friends. This is a small industry. We know everybody, so we’re reconnecting and seeing people we haven’t seen in a while,” said David Hitchcock of Saunders Real Estate, which specializes in agricultural properties.
Having the Citrus Expo means getting to meet Miss Florida Citrus, which this year is Leila Sabet, who took over for Michaela McLean, who was not only Miss Florida Citrus for the past two years, but also Miss Florida, a first because of COVID.
“I came in during an interesting time and competed over Zoom and in my parents’ garage at home competing,” said Sabet, who will be Miss Florida Citrus for 18 months. “I go around the state and network with citrus growers and educate students about the citrus industry. I’ve had to pivot and find a way to reach people virtually.”