If anybody has an idea where citrus is going to be in 10 years, it's Jim Snively. Snively is a fourth generation citrus grove owner and works a day job as vice-president of Southern Gardens Citrus in Clewiston.
He is also vice-president of the Highlands County Citrus Growers Association, a member of several citrus boards, and part of the research management committee for the Citrus Research and Development Foundation.
It's at the CRDF where the magic is happening.
"My responsibility is sitting on the committee that researches the projects that we get in. We'll get anywhere from 70 to 120 projects a year that people will submit to us for funding," explained Snively.
Most of those projects are aimed at treating citrus greening disease (also known as Huanglongbing or HLB) or citrus canker.
"Right now, some scientists are getting very close to a resistant tree," said Snively. Other projects are aimed at controlling the insect that spreads HLB or boosting production through nutrition and other practices to help the tree "last long enough to at least get some production value."
Snively was involved with CRDF since its inception in 2008. He was part of the Florida Citrus Production Research Advisory Council when greening first popped up in Florida. The council realized it was in over its head and turned to Washington, D.C., for help.
The Academy of Science got involved (the same organization that was called to work on the atomic bomb, said Snively) and described HLB as the worst agriculture disease they'd seen anywhere in the world.
"That's when we realized we had to put this organization together, raise money and solicit researchers," recalled Snively. It was their "Manhattan Project" he said, quoting colleague Peter McClure.
But citrus isn't the only fruit Snively has experience with. The Alabama native graduated from Florida Southern College in Lakeland with a B.S. in citrus business, then went to work on a pineapple farm in Collier County for two years. When they closed down, Snively landed a job with Turner Foods Corporation, who eventually brought him from the East Coast to Highlands County.
"I've been here ever since," said Snively, who joined Southern Gardens in 2002.
His wife, Jeannie, is also in the industry, working for Wheeler Farms in Lake Placid. The two Alabamans have a friendly rivalry going (he's a University of Alabama fan and she's an Auburn fan). Since two of the couple's three children went to Auburn, Jeannie claims to be ahead in the game.
Snively said he chose citrus as a career because he loves the outdoors and has fond memories growing up helping out in the family groves as a teenager. "The thing that inspires me the most are the results of the hard work. Also the different people that I get to meet and work with through the industry. They are just good people," he said.
As for the future of citrus, Snively is pretty certain that the end of greening is going to involve a resistant tree.
"It's a bacterial disease that is inside the phloem of the tree. You just can't get to it," he said.