Fresh Fruit: Challenges and Changes

Ernie NeffFresh

Fresh
Fresh

Duke Chadwell

Florida’s fresh citrus industry has suffered even more from HLB than has the much larger juice industry. Duke Chadwell, manager of the Citrus Administrative Committee (CAC), discusses pending organizational changes in the fresh industry, brought on primarily by HLB. The CAC administers a federal marketing order for fresh Florida citrus that has been in place since 1939.

“The Citrus Administrative Committee is looking at maybe partnering with another fresh citrus industry organization for economies of scale,” Chadwell says. “There have been numerous meetings, and they’re (CAC officials) looking at the possibilities. They would like to align themselves with other fresh-fruit entities. I think it will happen within the next few months. There will be some consolidation.”

Chadwell plans to retire on July 31, 2018, the end of the CAC’s fiscal year. “So,” he says, “there will be consolidation and there will be a new manager, even though that manager may be on a part-time basis.” He says the consolidation will be among “fresh-fruit organizations here in Florida … We are all familiar with those organizations, and they are familiar with the CAC … Most of our boards are (composed of) the same individuals, so there’s a lot of commonality in there.” Although Chadwell didn’t name the organizations involved, the other organizations concerned primarily with fresh Florida citrus are Florida Citrus Packers, Indian River Citrus League and New Varieties Development and Management Corp.

Chadwell traces the production decline for fresh Florida citrus since the 1995–96 season, well before the 2005 discovery of HLB in Florida. “Since that time, fresh production has declined 83 percent, while (total) citrus production (has declined) 74 percent,” he says. “The fresh has declined at a higher rate than the production of Florida citrus. We have some varieties that seem to be not as tolerant of HLB.”

When HLB was first discovered, Chadwell recalls, growers of fresh grapefruit thought that variety was more tolerant of HLB than other varieties. And that appeared to be the case for a few seasons. But, he says, “Grapefruit has taken a massive turn and has been greatly affected by HLB.”

Seedy tangerine varieties have also suffered greatly from HLB, and their production decline has been dramatic, especially over the past four years, Chadwell says.

In the 2016–17 season, Chadwell says, “We had one of the lowest seasons of record … with only 12.5 million cartons packed fresh, and that was a decline of about 26 percent from the previous season.”

 “We only have on record 26 packinghouses that packed fresh citrus last year,” Chadwell says. “As we ended the season, four of those houses had indicated they would no longer be in business. So for the beginning of this season (2017–18), we are going to have 21 or 22 packinghouses. And 15 of those are going to pack 90 percent of the volume.”

Just 22 years ago, Florida had 65 citrus packinghouses that packed more than 150,000 cartons each, Chadwell reports. “Not only have we lost houses, but every packinghouse has lost volume,” he says. “None of them are operating at efficient levels.”

“There is some silver lining,” Chadwell says. “We have some new varieties, seedless varieties, that are coming on line, and they accounted for almost 300,000 cartons (last season) … They almost doubled from the previous season.”

Chadwell hopes the seedless varieties, favored by consumers, see healthy production increases. “They’re very promising,” he says. “Some of them are very tasty and they have a future.”

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Ernie Neff

Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large