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Member of Trump's Cabinet to speak at SWFL citrus dinner

News-Press – August 4, 2017

A well-known member of President Trump’s cabinet is coming to Southwest Florida.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is coming mid-month to meet with people in the citrus industry.

While here, Perdue is expected to visit the annual Citrus Expo and discuss farm legislation, tour some groves and serve as keynote speaker at an Aug. 16 industry dinner held in conjunction with that event.

Perdue, a former two-term governor of Georgia, served as a captain in the U.S. Air Force.

He won’t be the only dignitary at the dinner: Florida Agriculture Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam will serve as master of ceremonies.

Michael Martin, Florida Gulf Coast University’s new president, also will attend the Aug. 16 evening event at Alico Arena on the FGCU campus.

Gulf Citrus Growers Association, Florida Citrus Mutual, the University of Florida/IFAS and FGCU are the dinner hosts.

How was Perdue enlisted?

U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, invited the agriculture secretary to tour citrus groves — and to discuss the industry’s challenges with the citrus greening disease, said Gulf Citrus Executive Director Ron Hamel.

Rooney recently introduced a bill in Congress reauthorizing programs to research a cure for citrus greening disease and aid growers in the replanting of healthy trees in ravaged or abandoned groves.

Citrus greening, also known as Huanglongbing or HLB, was first found in Florida in 2005.

Florida citrus production has declined by more than 60 percent since HLB’s detection.

The bacterial disease severely weakens trees and causes fruit to drop to the ground before it is ready for market.

It’s not only in Florida: Texas, Arizona and California are among the states grappling with greening.

The citrus expo Perdue will attend is scheduled for Aug. 16-17 at Lee Civic Center in North Fort Myers.

It’s exclusively for members of the industry, and is expected to draw more than 2,000 business people for its seminars and trade show.

Despite disease challenges, citrus remains an iconic industry in Florida, with an estimated $8.6 billion annual economic impact. It supports nearly 46,000 jobs.

The five-county region of Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades alone supplies more than 25 percent of Florida’s total citrus production and generates nearly $1 billion total economic impact annually.

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