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
Citrus
September 21, 2017
Hurricane Relief Fund Launched for Florida Farmworkers
Money raised will benefit Redlands Christian Migrant Association’s efforts to aid families in need. Read More
Paul and Derek Orsenigo
GenNext Growers
September 21, 2017
Advice for Taking Over the Family Farm
If you are considering joining and running your family business, here are some tips to ensure success. Read More
Picking fresh Florida blueberries
Berries
September 21, 2017
Ways Florida Blueberry Growers Can Elevate Their Message
Promotional efforts seek to harness power that drives the Sunshine State's ‘little blue dynamos.’ Read More
Inside the Horticulture field tour wagon at the 2016 Florida Ag Expo
Florida Ag Expo
September 21, 2017
Everything You Need to Know About the 2017 Florida Ag Expo
More education choices, flexible field tours, and networking opportunities to provide an enhanced attendee experience. Read More
Whiteflies on a leaf
Insect Control
September 20, 2017
Whitefly Troubles Go From Bad to Worse in Florida
Growers should have a plan for managing the pest from beginning to end of season. Read More
Grower Achievement Award
September 20, 2017
Ask Yourself: What Can I Do to Make Things Better?
Alan Jones, this year's recipient of American Vegetable Grower magazine's Grower Achievement Award, invites all growers to do what he does: Look in the mirror and ask," What can I do to make a positive impact on our industry?" Read More
Bacterial wilt symptoms on blueberry leaves
Berries
September 20, 2017
Getting to the Bottom of Bacterial Wilt in Blueberries
Prolific plant pathogen now presenting a new challenge for Florida producers and researchers. Read More
Citrus
September 19, 2017
Precision in Specialty Crops Gains Momentum
Here are some of the key drivers that may transform your farm in the years ahead. Read More
Fruits
September 19, 2017
EPA Mulls Restricting Dicamba Use
Proposal is a part of agency’s focus on reducing herbicide injury in vulnerable crops. Read More
Fruits
September 19, 2017
Washington State University Creates BMSB Management Resource Page
As populations grow in the state, university offers growers pest management advice. Read More
Berries
September 19, 2017
UC Davis Strawberry Lawuit Settled
Former university breeders to return any crosses that used unpatented varieties and agree the school owns rights to them. Read More
Neo 1 hops at UF/IFAS MREC
Citrus
September 19, 2017
Hopes High for Hops Fresh From Florida
When it comes to alternative crop solutions, something good is brewing in the Sunshine State. Do you have what it takes to tap in? Read More
Apples & Pears
September 16, 2017
Researcher Finds Bacteria Can Stop Blue Mold on Apples
The natural bacterium found in soil can survive in cold storage; this promising biocontrol offers an alternative to chemical treatments. Read More
Laurel wilt-damaged avocado tree leaves
Disease Control
September 15, 2017
Scientist Uncovers Chilling Side of Deadly Avocado Disease
Lab tests indicate laurel wilt pathogen grows faster in the fall and winter. Read More
Winter melon damage from Hurricane Irma in Elkton, FL
Citrus
September 15, 2017
Help Extended to Hurricane-Weary Farmers Dealing With Disaster
USDA chief grants extra time and special procedures to document and file claims. Read More
The Latest
Citrus
September 21, 2017
Hurricane Relief Fund Launched for Flori…
Money raised will benefit Redlands Christian Migrant Association’s efforts to aid families in need. Read More
GenNext Growers
September 21, 2017
Advice for Taking Over the Family Farm
If you are considering joining and running your family business, here are some tips to ensure success. Read More
Berries
September 21, 2017
Ways Florida Blueberry Growers Can Eleva…
Promotional efforts seek to harness power that drives the Sunshine State's ‘little blue dynamos.’ Read More
Florida Ag Expo
September 21, 2017
Everything You Need to Know About the 20…
More education choices, flexible field tours, and networking opportunities to provide an enhanced attendee experience. Read More
Insect Control
September 20, 2017
Whitefly Troubles Go From Bad to Worse i…
Growers should have a plan for managing the pest from beginning to end of season. Read More
Grower Achievement Award
September 20, 2017
Ask Yourself: What Can I Do to Make Thin…
Alan Jones, this year's recipient of American Vegetable Grower magazine's Grower Achievement Award, invites all growers to do what he does: Look in the mirror and ask," What can I do to make a positive impact on our industry?" Read More
Berries
September 20, 2017
Getting to the Bottom of Bacterial Wilt …
Prolific plant pathogen now presenting a new challenge for Florida producers and researchers. Read More
Citrus
September 19, 2017
Precision in Specialty Crops Gains Momen…
Here are some of the key drivers that may transform your farm in the years ahead. Read More
Fruits
September 19, 2017
EPA Mulls Restricting Dicamba Use
Proposal is a part of agency’s focus on reducing herbicide injury in vulnerable crops. Read More
Fruits
September 19, 2017
Washington State University Creates BMSB…
As populations grow in the state, university offers growers pest management advice. Read More
Berries
September 19, 2017
UC Davis Strawberry Lawuit Settled
Former university breeders to return any crosses that used unpatented varieties and agree the school owns rights to them. Read More
Citrus
September 19, 2017
Hopes High for Hops Fresh From Florida
When it comes to alternative crop solutions, something good is brewing in the Sunshine State. Do you have what it takes to tap in? Read More
Apples & Pears
September 16, 2017
Researcher Finds Bacteria Can Stop Blue …
The natural bacterium found in soil can survive in cold storage; this promising biocontrol offers an alternative to chemical treatments. Read More
Disease Control
September 15, 2017
Scientist Uncovers Chilling Side of Dead…
Lab tests indicate laurel wilt pathogen grows faster in the fall and winter. Read More
Citrus
September 15, 2017
Help Extended to Hurricane-Weary Farmers…
USDA chief grants extra time and special procedures to document and file claims. Read More
Citrus
September 13, 2017
New Guidance on FSMA Ag Water Compliance…
FDA issued a rule to extend compliance dates for agricultural water and announced a start date for farm inspections. Read More
Biocontrols Conference
September 13, 2017
Get Better Results From Your Biopesticid…
Softer crop protection programs are becoming a must in specialty crop production. Growers who aren’t learning more about their options Read More
Citrus
September 13, 2017
Florida Farmers Digging out From Impacts…
Damage reports starting to flood in from the field following monster storm, and it's not pretty. Read More