Frankly Speaking

There are few people in the Florida citrus industry who have spent a lifetime serving the interests of their fellow growers. Frank Bouis is one of them. And while the Bouis family has been in the citrus business since 1889, he says he still looks ahead to the future.

“The future can be a great one for Florida citrus,” he says. “But, it’s going to take a lot of work.

“And, some big changes.”

Bouis’ forthright nature have caused more than a few feathers to be ruffled. But one thing is for sure: He’s always looking out for the interests of the grower.

Well-Known Leader

Those who have been around the industry for more than a little while know Bouis. His leadership has guided a generation of citrus growers. He served twice as president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association (FFVA), was a member of the Florida State Board of Regents Committee on Agriculture, and is a director emeritus for the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. In addition to his terms as president of FFVA, he was president of Florida Citrus Mutual, the Florida Agricultural Council, the Florida Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers, and Citrus Grower Associates Inc. He is also president of the Citrus Growers Association Inc., an organization that works strictly on behalf of growers.

As president of Florida Fruit Company and Montverde Groves, he manages the company business with his wife and daughters. Florida Fruit Company is located in Lake County and has a long tradition of success in citrus. The grove was once owned by Bouis’ grandfather. Montverde Groves began life in the early 1960s when Bouis and three others incorporated it.

Applying Education

Bouis was born in Pennsylvania and received a bachelor’s of science degree in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He moved to Florida in 1950 to work at his grandfather’s citrus groves.

“In my ignorance, I decided to go into the field of growing citrus. I really did not at that time know what I was doing,” he says.

He earned another degree, this one in agriculture from the University of Florida, and became a life-long student and teacher of the intricacies of growing and selling Florida oranges and grapefruits. At one point, before the freezes of the 1980s, he acted as manager and caretaker to nearly 4000 acres in Lake, Sumter, and Marion counties. Since few people replanted after the freezes, he says, “I’ve been out of grove management except for those groves I own, either individually or through a corporation, which at this time is Florida Fruit Company.”

Political Prowess

Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Bouis says Florida agriculture had a friend in the administration.

Looking Back To Look Ahead

The Bouis family has been in Florida citrus since 1889, and while preserving the past is important to Frank Bouis, it’s not nearly as important as learning from it.”The industry went from small, fresh-fruit-based operations to large processed operations,” he says. “That paradigm is ending. And, while nobody knows what’s going to happen next, we desperately need to recover the fresh-fruit and fresh-juice industries.”

Bouis’ Lake-County operation is a mix of fresh fruit and processed citrus, but he says if the future is to be promising for the industry, major changes are needed.

“The industry is seriously handicapped by politics and pressure from processing interests, both domestic and foreign,” he says. “We need to reorganize the regulations and restrictions on fresh fruit here in the state. We cannot expect to remain profitable as they are now.”

Bouis suggests easing the restrictions on fresh fruit sales in the state, allowing fruit previously rejected for sale to go into not-from-concentrate juice. He also suggests allowing the best Florida fresh citrus to be sold in the state, to compete against California-grown fruit.

“We have a consumer base right here in Florida that could sustain every grower for decades,” he says. “But, we sell our ugliest fruit right in our own backyards.

Of course the consumer is going to choose the better-looking fruit.”
Although Bouis says Florida citrus has changed dramatically over the past 100 years, many things are still the same.

“Florida’s growers are now and have always been the best in the world,” he says. “As long as we continue to fight for the good of the industry, we will continue to be the best.”

“Growers were in relatively close rapport with the then Republican administration and especially the special trade representative’s office,” he says. “There was a clearer understanding that the administration was not contemplating any drastic things to be done to us. Then one day, I was in Washington and heard someone say the special trade representative favored the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). I later learned it was true — there had been a sudden change in direction. At that time, the 1990 Farm Bill was under debate and I had a quick education.

“It was amazing to me the lack of support we got from people who should have been on our side.”

Recounting the situation, he says that after NAFTA was passed, language was put in the Farm Bill stating that since U.S.-grown fruits and vegetables were very important to this country’s economy, its sociology, and its health, a national study would be considered to examine the fruit and vegetable industry — how it worked and what it needed. The study was never made.”

As for Trade Promotion Authority, Bouis says it’s somewhat meaningless in itself.

“It really depends on what the U.S. trade representative does with it. I have no way of predicting that,” says Bouis. “There will be deals cut to get it passed in the Senate.

“Then, if it is passed, the president will have to get treaties through the Senate. Today, the Democrats control the Senate and generally the Democrats have been more favorable to fruit and vegetable growers.”

And on the specific topic of the president cutting tariffs on Brazilian oranges in future treaties, he believes in quantitative analysis to prove a point. “There should be some definitive numbers, a defensible instrument of what happens to Florida citrus if the tariff was cut. Then you’ve got something to go talk to somebody about.”

A Team Effort

Bouis says growers need allies outside the agriculture industry — labor groups, consumer and environmental groups, bankers, and more.
“Labor unions were my best friends when it came to NAFTA,” he says.

He also worked with the Audubon Society and the National Farmers Union, saying that their interests are, in many respects, the same as ours.
“Farmers and association executives find it hard to make friends in strange societies,” he says.

“But they must. And as far as having to compromise, if a compromise gets the job done, if it enhances the chances of survival and preserves the values we all cherish, it may not be a compromise.”

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