Master Motivator

By |

In Growers' Own Words

“Be silent as to services you have rendered, but speak of favors you have received.”

These words from the ancient Roman philosopher and politician Seneca seems to be embodied in Riverfront Packing chief executive officer Daniel R. Richey. Always quick to defer accolade and promote the deeds of his predecessors, Richey speaks with an energetic humility and understands his place in Florida citrus was made possible by those who have come before him.

“Throughout history, the industry has been filled with people of character and pure guts,” Richey says. “We [the younger generation] have an obligation to those before us to take the mantle of leadership in citrus and continue the success. The truth is, though, we don’t hold a candle to the men and women who have already blazed the trail.”

A Different Path

Richey’s appreciation for those past leaders is even more impressive in that, before 1981, he was completely unaware of any of them.

“I’m a [New] Jersey Shore guy,” he says. “When I came to Florida, I didn’t know the difference between an orange and a grapefruit.”

He did, however, know how to hit a fastball.

“I went to Florida Southern College on a baseball scholarship,” he says. “I played second base and really loved the game. I still do.

“But, I found something I love even more.”

Richey is speaking, of course, about his wife, Audrey, who he met while in college. As the daughter of Victor Knight, a longtime Indian River grower and packer, Audrey certainly knew the difference between the fruit.

“After I realized I wasn’t going further in baseball — mainly because I couldn’t hit a big-league curve ball — I started learning about the citrus industry through her,” Richey says. “After college, I taught physical education for a while before taking a job with my new father-in-law.

“The rest is history.”

From The Ground Up

Today, Richey is the chief executive officer of the Vero Beach-based growing, harvesting, and packing company. But, he says, he did not start out behind a desk.

“I worked in the groves when I started out here,” he says. “I did everything from preparing a field, to planting trees, to digging irrigation lines, to picking fruit. I think those early jobs gave me the perfect knowledge base to do what I do now.

Canker Control

As a grower, harvester, packer, and shipper of fresh Florida citrus, Riverfront Packing chief executive officer Daniel R. Richey is keenly aware of the impact canker has had on the industry. His own groves have felt the sting of the canker eradication program, though no signs of the disease were found on his property.

“The 1,900-foot rule claimed a big portion of one of our groves,” he says. “But, we are moving forward. We won’t be pushed out that easily.”

Fresh fruit growers and packers, in particular, must be vigilant about detection of the disease, and have a strong prevention and control program in place.

“You can’t control whether or not you get canker, but you can control how you act and react to it,” Richey says.

Richey says the plan he has in place for canker control and prevention includes the following measures:

- Do not harvest while trees are still wet. “We have waited until after noon on some days to make sure we do not infect or spread canker to our trees.”

- Have a canker decontamination station at every entrance to the grove.

- Conduct frequent packinghouse inspections, complete with bin sanitation.

- Limit access to groves.

- Exceed sanitation and decontamination standards both in the grove and the packinghouse.

- Develop and train full-time inspection crews.

- Adhere to best management practices program rules and regulations.

- Increase copper sprays and develop sound spray schedules.

Richey also says that helping researchers by offering portions of a grove up for testing of new products or techniques is a smart way to not only stay ahead of the curve, but also to serve the industry.

“We are in this together,” he says. “If we help them do their job, they can better help us to do ours.”

“Even though I wanted to move up faster and do a lot of things my way, my father-in-law always kept me going at the right pace. I learned a lot from all of the industry leaders during that time, which helped make me who I am.

“The biggest lesson I learned was that it doesn’t matter what you think you know, it only matters how hard you are willing to work.”

Even in the early stages of his career, Richey made sure he got to industry and association meetings, to both learn about the business and the growers who modeled activism.

“My brother-in-law [Victor Knight Jr.] really mentored me about the importance of staying involved beyond your own business,” Richey admits. “I watched as growers not only debated issues, but went out and made things happen. That was what stood out for me.”

Building Relationships

Richey says it is not only important that growers stay active outside their own fences, but necessary.

“The citrus industry has been so great to me,” he says. “It’s my passion. I have been given the wonderful opportunity to serve my industry in a number of ways. And, while it means working nights and weekends, it is my responsibility to give back to the industry that gives so much to me.

“I think every grower feels the same way.”

Beyond that, however, Richey says staying involved in the industry equates to individual success.

“If the industry thrives, we all thrive,” he says.

Richey says that the key to success in citrus — or any business — is building relationships, both up and down the chain of command.

“People are, by far, the most valuable asset any business or industry has,” he says. “I know a lot of people say that, but I truly believe it. I make it a point to personally know everyone who works for me.

“These people not only have a vested interest in the success of the business, but they are my family. I like to think I treat them as such.”

Those who know Richey would agree.

“Richey is a great example of someone that is always available to work for the betterment of the Florida citrus industry,” says Duke Chadwell, a Lakeland grower and fellow citrus commissioner. “He has always been there for our industry and his employees and will continue to shoulder more than his share of the responsibility. He cares deeply about the welfare of the Florida citrus industry and every man and woman who works at Riverfront Packing.”

Making A Difference

To say Richey is active in the industry would be an understatement. During his 25 years in the industry, he has served as chairman of the Florida Citrus Commission, president of the Florida Citrus Packers, chairman and president of the Indian River Citrus League, secretary/treasurer of the Citrus Administrative Committee, member and director of HESCO, is an active member of Florida Citrus Mutual, the USDA Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee, and served as the co-chairman of the Florida Citrus Canker Technical Advisory Committee. He was also instrumental in the development of the Citrus Health Response Plan (CHRP).

“Even though I’ve spent a lot of time on industry issues, I always feel I could do more,” Richey says. “I know the men and women who came before me worked tirelessly, and I hope I can carry on the legacy.”

The industry involvement and hard work Richey puts forth on behalf of his fellow growers is not lost on those he serves.

“Richey has and is currently spending countless hours working for growers and shippers of fresh Florida citrus to ensure the fresh side of the business remains viable,” Chadwell says. “He is a true beacon in Florida citrus right now.”

Richey lives in Vero Beach with his wife, Audrey. The couple have three children: Jacqueline, Jessica, and Tyler. And, while his children are following career paths outside of citrus, Richey says the future of the industry belongs to the younger generation.

“There are a lot of young growers, researchers, and allied members in citrus right now,” he says. “It’s up to us to make sure we lead the industry like its forefathers have.”

And what does the future of Florida citrus look like, according to Richey?

“In 10 years, citrus is going to be a very different industry,” he says. “We will have to be smarter than ever before about our production practices, marketing techniques, and legislative activism.

“But, we will make it. The future will be a good one for Florida citrus.”     

Leave a Reply