Citrus Dept. calls on a superhero to boost message

By JOHN HOWELL The Daily Fray
September 18, 2014 4:52 pm

captain citrus

The new Captain Citrus (Via Department of Citrus)

Fear not, carbonated soda drinkers, Captain Citrus is here, tasked with promoting healthy nutrition and the ageless perks of orange juice: great taste, vitamin C, Folate, Potassium and “no added sugar."

“Captain Citrus will show readers that while they may not be able to fly or shoot solar blasts, they can make healthy choices in their everyday lives and unleash the hero within,” Bill Rosemann of Marvel Entertainment said at a news conference Tampa.

The Florida citrus industry needs a hero. But Captain Citrus -- the redesigned mascot of the Florida Department of Citrus -- is powerless against citrus greening, a raging bacterial disease that is confounding scientists searching for a cure.

oranges"This affects the whole state. The economic impact. The landscape. The iconic image of Florida and how it has drawn people here to smell the orange blossoms in the spring and look forward to that Christmas gift of fresh Florida citrus," state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam told the Associated Press.

"It will have a ripple effect throughout the economy if we can't get our arms around this disease."

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a new round of financial assistance for thousands of state citrus growers who have lost trees to citrus greening.

The disease "is responsible for the loss of millions of trees across the state and the smallest citrus harvest in decades this year," Putnam said in a press release. "This [USDA] program will provide a boost to an industry that is on the brink.”

State citrus growers will be eligible for up to 50 percent of the cost to remove diseased trees; 65 percent of the cost to replant and labor; and 65 percent of the cost for seedlings. An estimated 4,500 growers could be eligible for the program, according to the USDA.

The Sunshine orange juice industry generates $9 billion annually, produces 80 percent of juice in the U.S. and employs roughly 76,000. Florida is second in the world, behind Brazil, in growing juice oranges.

Roughly half the trees in every citrus orchard in the state are reportedly afflicted by the Asian bacteria (huanglongbing), which was discovered in Broward County in 1998 and spread to 31 counties within two years, according to a Washington Post story. Nearly $90 million has been spent to battle the disease.

This past growing season, the state produced 104 million boxes of oranges. In 2003, 243 million boxes were packaged, according to the USDA.

"We're in the fight of our life," said Michael Sparks, CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual. "What’s at stake is orange juice on the breakfast table.  ... Would that be accepted by the public? You don’t have to do a focus group or another survey to know it is a public concern.”

As for Captain Citrus, the FDC partnered with Marvel in a $1 million campaign to transform its mascot from a pudgy talking orange into a comic superhero. The muscular Captain Citrus will also appear with Marvel's Avengers in comic books.

"In addition to battling evil, the Avengers also represent the ideals we all should strive for, including trust, diversity and teamwork," Rosemann said.




The Gunk Report

For the Blue-Green Algal Bloom Weekly Update from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, tap here. For DEP's Algal Bloom Sampling Map, tap here.

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