Florida Citrus Mutual President Faces Down Challenges

Seeking Solutions

In challenging times, industries need strong representation from cooperative organizations to speak on their behalf with a unified voice. In citrus, Florida Citrus Mutual (FCM) fills that role, along with other regional associations. To say the citrus industry is facing challenges these days would be an understatement.

Serving as FCM’s current president, Fran Becker says that being actively involved in organizations like FCM is critical to effectively address the issues facing the industry. Growing up in citrus, Becker is passionate about preserving the way of life provided by the fruit that is synonymous with Florida.
“Like anything else, I think you get out of this industry what you put in,” he says. “It is really important to stay involved, especially in my job, because I deal with growers every day.

“Our family has done well in citrus, and we are lucky to live and work in Florida. That is why it is important to keep this industry viable, so I can pass that tradition down to my son. I know many others feel that same way.”

Top Of Mind

There is no question that citrus greening is the top issue that FCM is focusing on due to the fast and devastating spread of the disease. To underscore its importance, $20 million was earmarked for greening research this year.

“When you throw that much money and talent at something, you expect to see results,” Becker says. “As growers and an industry, we want to see results immediately, but it doesn’t happen overnight, so we have to be patient. However, we are very hopeful for positive results.”

Becker sees the removal of abandoned groves as a critical aspect in containing citrus greening and canker. Research has shown that the psyllid — the greening vector — will move from abandoned groves to commercial ones, potentially spreading the disease far and wide.

“At FCM, we feel very strongly about abandoned groves and have had a special committee working on this for more than a year,” he says. “It has been a tough issue because we kept stumbling on private property rights and not wanting to infringe upon them. But, we realize this is an issue that must be addressed, so we are trying to come up with ways to encourage property owners to remove or kill the abandoned trees.

“The USDA abandoned acreage estimate of nearly 132,000 acres was helpful to bring to state and local officials and say, ‘Here is the problem and it’s a big one.’ We believe we may be able to have some success addressing the issue with the Citrus Health Response Program (CHRP), which is the successor to the canker eradication program.”

According to Becker, interpreting CHRP as a successor to canker eradication would allow property owners who have abandoned groves to be given notice that they are not in compliance with CHRP. Those who are not in compliance could lose their ag tax exemption. Mutual has recently confirmed this opinion with the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture.  

“Then we have another issue where a grove is not considered abandoned, but the grower is not taking care of it like he should,” Becker says. “That is an even bigger problem, because those trees represent a more active reservoir for disease due to continued leaf flushes from modest care. It kind of gets down to growers communicating on a local level to be sure that their neighbors are taking the needed steps to fight greening and canker.”

Working On Labor

“Being a processor, labor is very near and dear to us,” says Becker. “We are totally reliant on the available pool of labor to do what we do. With that in mind, we know immigration is a huge issue with the American public, and it is tough for any politician to take on.

Research Funding Debate

The citrus industry knows that the battle against citrus greening, canker, and other diseases will be an ongoing process that requires significant funding over a period of years. Currently, there are three proposals being discussed by industry members on how to fund research and marketing efforts going forward.

• Federal Research Order – This idea would place a tax (per box) on all imports (not just into Florida) and would tax domestic production as well to fund only research efforts. According to supporters, it is promising that importers like Brazil seem to be okay with this idea, and another plus is it would free up Florida grower tax money for marketing.

• Unified Tax – This idea would eliminate the current box tax on fruit and would levy a tax on juice as it leaves the plant. Proponents of the plan argue this idea would stop giving imported juice that is blended with Florida juice a “free ride” in marketing efforts.

• Federal Research and Marketing Order – This order, proposed by FDOC, would establish two separate committees under one federal order, one for research and one for generic marketing. At press time, discussion on this order was in its early stages.

“Labor is bigger than just citrus in Florida. Just about every corner of our economy is reliant on a good supply of labor. It is a huge issue in the state.”
FCM had supported AgJOBS but it got caught up in the larger immigration debate, which ended in a stalemate with no action taken. Becker says to expect action on immigration after the election.

“With the election over, we will see the immigration debate come up again,” he says. “There will be comprehensive reform, and we will be pushing for something similar to AgJOBS to be approved as part of the larger package.”

Prices And The Economy

OJ prices have been weighed down by large inventories. In an environment of increasing input costs, growers are feeling the squeeze on margins. According to a report by IFAS, citrus production costs (excluding greening and canker costs) increased by 25% to 29% or $260 to $290 per acre from 2006-2007 to 2007-2008.

At the end of the 2007-2008 season, combined (NFC + FCOJ) orange juice inventories in the state exceeded 600 million single-strength-equivalent gallons or nearly 30 weeks of supply at current movement levels. That supply will have to come down quite a bit to bring a better delivered-in price for Florida oranges.

“This is a serious issue in our market,” says Becker. “We have seen OJ prices rise to historic highs, and consumers have responded with lower consumption. Retail prices must come down, and we are seeing some signs of that now as our retail partners work to get to a price that will generate incremental sales and movement.”

In the wake of recent market meltdowns, Becker has not heard of too many problems with growers finding access to credit given that traditional ag lenders did not get caught up in risky credit markets that took down the larger investment banks.

“We are in uncharted territory with the economy,” says Becker. “You know we may get the retail price of OJ down, but we might not see the same response in demand as we have in the past. But, the good news is we are still offering consumers a great product with a strong nutritional package.”             

Leave a Reply

Featured Stories
Greg Lang of Michigan State discusses cherry tree pruning at IFTA 2016.
Fruits
February 8, 2016
Precision Fruit Growing, Business Management Top Agenda At IFTA Conference Kickoff
American Fruit Grower magazine managing editor Christina Herrick posts her updates from the 59th annual gathering. Read More
U.S. Capitol Building FEATURE
Farm Marketing
February 8, 2016
Food Policy: If You Don’t Speak, Others Will Speak For You
British Columbia’s former Minister of Agriculture, Corky Evans, spoke with attendees at 2016 North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association’s Convention about Read More
Winery at Krause Berry Farm FEATURE
Farm Marketing
February 8, 2016
How British Columbia And U.S. Regs Are Shaping Farm Markets [Opinion]
Laws passed decades ago to protect small farms aren't keeping up with the realities of modern farmers and their marketing efforts. Restrictions can shut down hosting weddings, but offer incentives to open wineries. Read More
Table with cut flowers at Krause Berry Farm
Farm Marketing
February 8, 2016
3 Tips On How Not To Lose Your Shirt When Adding A Restaurant To Your Farm
Chef and consultant Chuck Currie told NAFDMA Convention attendees the basic principles of what makes a farm market eatery a success or a flop. Read More
field plot
Crop Protection
February 8, 2016
7 Steps To See If Biocontrols Pencil Out For Your Operation
Have you considered adding biocontrols to your operation? If you have, there’s no doubt you’ve already weighed the potential costs, Read More
The family at the helm of Sterman Masser Potato Farms includes (from left) David, Keith, Helen, and Julie.
Photo credit: Rosemary Gordon
Potatoes
February 7, 2016
A Lesson In Marketing From Sterman Masser Potato Farms
Always looking for new product offerings and ways to expand, Sterman Masser Potato Farms caters to consumers. Read More
Thomas Björkman, the director of the Eastern Broccoli Project, discusses details on the challenges of broccoli production in the East.
Vegetables
February 7, 2016
The Eastern Broccoli Project Moves Forward
As acreage increases in the East, mid-sized growers seek channels to distribute their product and continue the search for varieties. Read More
Apples On Display
Fruits
February 6, 2016
Best Research Is Industry Driven [Opinion]
Like many of you, I’m not crazy about a lot of government programs. It’s not that their genesis isn’t noble; God Read More
RosBREED will have an impact on nearly all the major U.S. rosaceous crop production areas.
Fruits
February 6, 2016
RosBREED: A National Effort To Improve The Fruit Industry
The project focuses on improving disease resistance and fruit quality through better genetics and breeding. Read More
The Latest
Fruits
February 8, 2016
Precision Fruit Growing, Business Manage…
American Fruit Grower magazine managing editor Christina Herrick posts her updates from the 59th annual gathering. Read More
Farm Marketing
February 8, 2016
Food Policy: If You Don’t Speak, O…
British Columbia’s former Minister of Agriculture, Corky Evans, spoke with attendees at 2016 North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association’s Convention about Read More
Farm Marketing
February 8, 2016
How British Columbia And U.S. Regs Are S…
Laws passed decades ago to protect small farms aren't keeping up with the realities of modern farmers and their marketing efforts. Restrictions can shut down hosting weddings, but offer incentives to open wineries. Read More
Farm Marketing
February 8, 2016
3 Tips On How Not To Lose Your Shirt Whe…
Chef and consultant Chuck Currie told NAFDMA Convention attendees the basic principles of what makes a farm market eatery a success or a flop. Read More
Farm Marketing
February 8, 2016
10 Ideas You Can Steal From NAFDMA’…
We visited several farm markets, as well as poultry and cheese farms and garden shops, this past week. Here are just a few of the best ideas we spied. Read More
Crop Protection
February 8, 2016
7 Steps To See If Biocontrols Pencil Out…
Have you considered adding biocontrols to your operation? If you have, there’s no doubt you’ve already weighed the potential costs, Read More
Potatoes
February 7, 2016
A Lesson In Marketing From Sterman Masse…
Always looking for new product offerings and ways to expand, Sterman Masser Potato Farms caters to consumers. Read More
Vegetables
February 7, 2016
The Eastern Broccoli Project Moves Forwa…
As acreage increases in the East, mid-sized growers seek channels to distribute their product and continue the search for varieties. Read More
Fruits
February 6, 2016
Best Research Is Industry Driven [Opinio…
Like many of you, I’m not crazy about a lot of government programs. It’s not that their genesis isn’t noble; God Read More
Fruits
February 6, 2016
RosBREED: A National Effort To Improve T…
The project focuses on improving disease resistance and fruit quality through better genetics and breeding. Read More
Berries
February 5, 2016
Moving Beyond Methyl Bromide With Biofun…
Editor’s note: University of California Farm Advisor Mark Bolda will present much more information on this topic at the Biocontrols Read More
Grapes
February 5, 2016
Geotextiles Can Help Prevent Winter Grap…
Although Northeast and Midwest grape growing regions have so far been spared from extreme cold this year, the winters of Read More
Grapes
February 5, 2016
Researchers Test New Method To Mitigate …
The use of evaporative cooling in vineyards during hot weather isn’t a new concept, but researchers in Australia are testing Read More
Crop Protection
February 5, 2016
Register Now For Biocontrols Conference …
Space is limited, so register now to attend the first-ever Biocontrols USA 2016 Conference Field and Greenhouse Tour. Following the Read More
Grapes
February 4, 2016
Northern Grapes Project Fuels A Market F…
 There’s a burgeoning market for cold-weather grapes. The Northern Grapes Project, funded in 2011 by a USDA National Institute of Read More
Citrus
February 4, 2016
Can Olive Oil Grease Skids For Florida’s…
Researchers, interested growers help launch new industry. Read More
Citrus
February 3, 2016
Sunkist Expands Organic Portfolio
With the organic citrus sector growing three times as fast as conventional, the 123-year-old cooperative is keeping up with the times. Read More
Citrus
February 3, 2016
Syngenta OKs Buyout By ChemChina
Deal valued at more than $43 billion; Syngenta management team to stay intact. Read More
[gravityform id="62" title="false" description="false"]