For more than a decade, the Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Award, sponsored by Chemtura AgroSolutions, has honored the proverbial â€œworkhorseâ€� on behalf of the industry. With the challenges of pest and disease, foreign competition, and the need to grow demand, strong industry advocacy is needed now more than ever.
The 2012 Citrus Achievement Award winner, Victor â€œVicâ€� Story Jr., exemplifies this â€œworkhorseâ€� ethic on behalf of the citrus industry he loves. His involvement in the industry spans his lifetime, starting out working in the grove planted by his father. â€œI was pretty good help to my dad by the time I was eight,â€� he says.
This month, Story will step down from a two-year stint serving as Florida Citrus Mutualâ€™s president. In that time, heâ€™s traveled the country, preaching the importance of Floridaâ€™s citrus industry to lawmakers and regulators.
During his time serving as president, Florida Citrus Mutual notes: â€œIn this role, he has traveled to Washington and Tallahassee lobbying for citrus growers on everything from labor reform to disease research to trade policy. He has testified in front of federal and state committees as well as the International Trade Commission.
â€œIn addition, Vic also has done countless television and print media interviews on issues important to growers. He even visited schoolchildren as part of an industry program to educate kids about citrus.â€�
Like many people who have enjoyed success and the ability to lead, Story credits his upbringing by exceptional parents. â€œI was fortunate to have two great parents, who had the vision to buy a grove and start a business after World War II,â€� he says.
His parents met in North Africa where both were serving in the War. His dad was an Army Air Corps pilot and his mother was an Air Corps nurse. After the War was over, his parents saved up money to purchase 100 acres between Babson Park and Frostproof. They cleared 80 acres of that land and planted a grove. Story calls it the Home Grove, which they still own to this day.
â€œThey built a little barn there at the grove,â€� says Story. â€œOn the south side of the building, was one room where we lived until I was 14 years old. It didnâ€™t have AC or heat, no TV, no nothing, but that wasnâ€™t unusual for the late 1940s and early 1950s.â€�
His father worked other jobs until 1958 when he went into citrus growing full time. From this foundation, the family business has grown over the years. By the time Story went to college in 1963, the familyâ€™s citrus acreage had grown to about 110 acres.
Story stayed away at school and served in the Army Reserves for about three years before returning home to help on the farm and continue the family business. â€œI felt guilty the whole time I was away, because my dad was left to do the work without the help of me or my brother, who also was away at school. I knew I wanted to make citrus my career. When I came back to work with dad, we started buying 10-acre blocks here and there. Weâ€™d usually buy something that was kind of run-down and fix it up and make a nice grove
out of it.â€�
2012 Citrus Achievement Award Winner: Vic Story
Story describes the familyâ€™s business growth as slow and steady in the decades since. The Story Companies, the family business name, now owns about 2,000 acres of groves and manages about 4,000 acres more with its caretaking business. Story started the caretaking business after the 1989 freeze hit. â€œThe â€™89 freeze hit us hard and we lost about 1,000 acres. I had five children at home and bills to pay, so we started the caretaking business to help make up for the loss.â€�
â€œI feel confident in the future,â€� says Story. â€œTwo of my sons, Kyle and Matt, are working here, so we are investing in the future. Prices have improved and helped us justify taking the risk. We recently purchased 800 acres of land and plan to plant a new 300-acre block on part of that land. Plus, weâ€™ve been buying groves where it makes sense.â€�
In addition to the new blocks, Story has been replacing trees in existing groves. â€œWeâ€™ve planted 25,000 trees in existing groves over the past three years,â€� he says. â€œThat has been very lucrative for us in terms of productivity. We have been and will continue actively replanting.â€�
While the spread of HLB is a concern and impacts all growersâ€™ decisions about replanting and the future, Story believes answers will be found. â€œWe have gotten a lot of basic science done that I believe will start paying off over time. Our main goal right now is to maintain our groves as well as we can until a solution comes along. There is no doubt in my mind if you keep your trees healthy and control the psyllids, you have a much better chance of surviving this disease.â€�
To keep trees healthy, an aggressive foliar nutrition program is employed in the groves. â€œTheÂ Citrus Achievement Award winner last year, Maury Boyd, I consider a real asset to the citrus community,â€� says Story. â€œHe really showed us what could be done with foliar nutrition. What we are doing in our groves I would call a modified Maury Boyd cocktail approach.â€�
What Story says he does know about HLB and the science of finding a solution will be that the process will take time and be costly. The drive to raise funds for research has been part of his mission in recent years, serving as Mutual president and also serving for a stint on the Citrus Commission.
â€œRecently, we met with representatives from FDA, USDA, and EPA at the Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred regarding bringing any new solutions we find on HLB or other diseases to growers as quickly as possible,â€� says Story. â€œThey indicated that for their part they would be as cooperative as they could be, but also said they have a job to do. The No. 1 thing we learned is getting a new solution registered will be expensive. And, No. 2, we learned it will be a two- to five-year process.â€�
There has been a fair amount of debate over the balance of dollars spent on research versus marketing. Story says the answer is finding the right balance. â€œWe were forced into putting money into citrus disease research initially. But, this year we got $2 million from the state legislature and weâ€™ve gotten a couple million from the federal side. We also have gotten some very generous donations from the private sector, which adds up to about $1 million.
â€œFlorida Citrus Mutual is working very hard to secure more funds from the National Research Trust Fund and working to try to divert some of the tariff money into research. Now that California and Texas are in the game with us so to speak with HLB finds, we have three states with significant political clout seeking funds. Where I am going with this is that all these things combined should release some dollars back into advertising and promotion.â€�
2012 Citrus Achievement Award Winner: Vic Story, ctd.
Story was on the Citrus Commission when the FDOCâ€™s latest ad agency was selected. He says, at a minimum, the agency needs to spend about $15 million per year to achieve its ultimate goals. He notes it is encouraging to see that some of the orange juice brands have recently increased their advertising.Â â€œI think we have to put more focus back on advertising whether it is TV, digital, or in-store,â€� he says. â€œWe have to do more in all the ways that touch people when they make their purchasing decisions.â€�
â€œBack when I was younger out working hard in the groves, I didnâ€™t realize there was somebody somewhere looking out for my and other growersâ€™ best interest,â€� says Story. â€œSomebody that was working to be sure a tariff was in place to keep a level playing field, or someone working to keep products labeled, or helping keep research going and speaking on our behalf in political circles.â€�
With all the challenges of the day, Story says these kinds of advocates are more important than ever. That is why he has been so active in Florida Citrus Mutual and other boards and associations. He says these organizations stand up for the grower and work for a viable and successful industry.Â â€œPeople canâ€™t lose sight of the important work these various organizations do every day,â€� he says. â€œIt has been my privilege to serve with these groups to help ensure that growersâ€™ voices get heard and that the regulations and policy that come down are things that they can live with.â€�
Community And Industry Workhorse
Along with his family business positions, Vic Story has been very active in his community and state. He served on the board of directors of American Bank and Trust for more than 25 years. Also, Story currently serves as vice president and on the board of directors for Orange Growers Marketing Association Inc., a member of Citrus World Inc.
Storyâ€™s civic involvements have spanned his entire adult life. He has served as a former member and chairman of the Polk County Farm Service Agency; former board member and president of the Lake Wales Family YMCA; former board member and vice president of the Lake Wales Little League; former board member and president of the Hillcrest Elementary PTO; former city commissioner and mayor of Lake Wales; former co-chairman of the Concerned Property Owners of Polk County; former member of Polk County Board of County Commissionerâ€™s Task Force on Farm Labor Housing; former member of the Polk County Charter Review Committee; board member of Citrus Research and Education Center Foundation; member of the American Legion Post 71; board member and current president of Florida Citrus Mutual; board member and past president of Polk County Farm Bureau; member of the Citrus Disease Research and Development Advisory Board for USDA; former member and vice chairman of the Florida Citrus Commission; and former chairman of the Polk Citizens for Good Government.