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Dantzler’s 3-year Monsanto deal was a disaster for citrus farmers

The most costly project of the group created to save Florida citrus farmers has been a wasteful disaster. It produced nothing, wasted un-recoverable time, and allowed the HLB citrus greening disease to spread.

Even worse, after three years and $12.3 million, the Citrus Research and Development Foundation (CRDF) has known for some time that its Monsanto-Bayer partner wants to stop trying to find a way to defeat HLB/citrus greening because the citrus industry simply isn’t profitable for the German multinational.

CRFD’s Dantzler has a lot to answer for

CRDF Chief Executive Officer Rick Dantzler should have to answer for his total failure at the April 28 board meeting.

Dantzler’s team ignored years’ worth of scientific data showing that a low-cost fertilizer currently on the market improves the vigor of citrus trees, leaves, and fruits. Some argue that CRDF has blocked research on promising solutions.

Instead, the CRDF placed citrus growers’ fate in the hands of Monsanto-Bayer, the German multinational being sued by farmers nationwide for producing products that destroyed their crops.

“It is the most expensive [project] in CRDF’s history; it’s a $12.3 million project,” Dantzler told Citrus Industry News last December.

Now it’s gone. Bayer, which bought and absorbed Monsanto in 2018, reportedly says that it will quit trying to find a cure for citrus greening unless CRDF gives it more money. Last year, Bayer reported $43.55 billion in revenue.

Even so, Dantzler himself admitted months ago that finding a cure for HLB/citrus greening simply wasn’t profitable enough for Monsanto-Bayer.

Dantzler knew all along

Dantzler has known for some time that Monsanto-Bayer had lost interest in fighting HLB/citrus greening. “Citrus is just simply not a big enough commodity to be able to be supported by Bayer if their [products] are only going to be used in citrus,” Dantzler said in December.

The CRDF boss told Citrus Industry News that it can cost up to $250 million for a big company like Monsanto-Bayer to bring a product to the retail market.

Yet Dantzler has ignored products that are already on the market, like the organic fertilizer selling under the brand CitruSaver, which appears to have properties to heal the plant, leaf, and fruit vigor of HLF-stricken citrus trees.

Somebody ought to be looking into this,” plant disease expert Bob Johnson said after doing four years of small field trials with the fertilizer.

Our sources tell us that Dantzler this year wants to pour a chunk of $8 million appropriated by the state of Florida into Monsanto-Bayer. SaveCitrus has urged the state to withhold that money until CRDF focuses on closer-term, off-the-shelf products with scientific data that shows promise in fighting HLB.

“Dantzler expects he’ll soon ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture for perhaps $3 to $5 million per year for three to five years to fund continued Bayer research,” Citrus Industry News reported in December.

CRDF was founded a decade ago with the sole purpose of finding a way to cure HLB/citrus greening, which it called an “existential threat” to Florida groves.

Dantzler still looking at something ‘many, many years away’

HLB is wiping out Florida citrus with every season, yet Dantzler said in December that he is still looking for a solution that is “probably many, many years away” from “actually making it to the marketplace.”

Dantzler said four months ago that his plan “has two prongs. One is to try to develop a plant defense modulator, which would essentially switch on a plant’s natural defenses against HLB. The other is an antibacterial prong which seeks to find something that will actually kill the bacteria directly.”

Monsanto-Bayer, said Dantzler, is “very excited about a class of plant defense modulator. They call it the H class. They are developing it for citrus but it has efficacy” to fight diseases in other crops.

Dantzler wants more cash for his solution that won’t reach market until after Florida citrus is wiped out

The Dantzler solution probably won’t arrive until after HLB wipes out Florida citrus groves.

Dantzler told Citrus Industry News very starkly:

“we are probably many, many years away from one of these products actually making it to the marketplace . . . . The reality is, CRDF is not going to be able to continue funding this at the levels we have in the past. We are going to have to get additional funding partners. I have reached out to the California Research Board … I think they like it, too. To what extent they might be willing to participate I don’t yet know. The key to this is probably going to be federal funding.”

Dantzler doesn’t blame Monsanto-Bayer for leaving Florida citrus farmers in the lurch.

He told Citrus Industry News, “I don’t think anyone questions that Bayer has given it all it has.”