PIECES OF THE PAST: The Founding of Florida Citrus Mutual

Tacy CalliesPieces of the Past

Mutual
An old postcard from the 1950s shows the Florida Citrus Mutual office on Orange Avenue in Lakeland.

By Brenda Eubanks Burnette

On the cover of the April 1949 issue of Citrus Industry magazine, there is a paragraph that references the beginning of Florida Citrus Mutual. It simply states:

“Now that Florida Citrus Mutual is definitely and permanently organized, it behooves every citrus grower in Florida to give this super-cooperative organization his loyal and whole-hearted support. With prices as they now are, and as they promise to be for some time, there may possibly be no need for Mutual to exercise its control over prices during the remainder of this season, thus giving ample time for the formulation of plans for operation when the need arises. Citrus growers are fortunate in that they may now look forward to the effective operation of a great organization owned, officered and controlled by the growers themselves, but broad enough in its scope to take in every element and every phase of the industry.”

More history about the founding of Florida Citrus Mutual can be found on the organization’s website:

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“During the late 1940s, the citrus industry experienced severe market fluctuations. Citrus prices did not even cover the cost of production, and growers were losing money. The Citrus Exchange determined that the industry needed an organization dedicated to stabilizing prices. Consequently, the idea for Florida Citrus Mutual (FCM) was born. FCM began operating in 1948, despite not being officially activated until March 25, 1949. Several key men in the citrus industry strongly supported FCM’s cause and are largely responsible for recruiting members as well as getting the organization on its feet. These men are known as Mutual’s founding fathers: Latt Maxcy, Barney Kilgore, C.C. Commander, J.A. Griffin and James C. Morton.

“When FCM finally began operating in 1948, it had more than 6,000 grower members. Mutual was organized to have 21 directors (who are grower-members that represent each of the seven districts), a general manager and several department heads, who all work together to resolve problems facing the citrus industry. Mutual’s primary goal was to raise prices for growers; however, it also provided important price information, which had never before been published.

“While FCM was still young, it quickly gained power and began to exert its influence over the fluctuating citrus market. During the 1949–1950 season, Mutual exercised its authority over the market and established minimum prices for citrus, which gave buyers the confidence to purchase citrus, and became the most prosperous citrus growers had ever seen. Unfortunately, just as FCM began to turn the citrus market around, its methods of price stabilization were challenged. The processors questioned FCM’s practices and in 1952 requested an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). In June 1957, after five years of deliberating, the FTC announced that FCM’s actions of fixing prices prior to 1952 were a violation of the spirit of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

“Though the FTC’s decision dealt a severe blow to Florida Citrus Mutual, as well as citrus growers, Mutual quickly got back on its feet and restructured its goals. Instead of being focused primarily on market stabilization, Mutual emphasized its role of providing market information and price forecasting. Shortly thereafter, Mutual turned more of its attention to state and federal legislation and research and advertising efforts affecting growers.”

Brenda Eubanks Burnette is executive director of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame. Pieces of the Past is presented in partnership with Florida Southern College’s McKay Archives Center in Lakeland.

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