By Chip Henry
The current state of the commercial citrus marketplace in Florida justifies the need for small growers to find niche markets in which to sell their fruit. Deplorable prices for juice oranges are predicted to continue through the upcoming season. A recent University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences economic report indicates the possibility that perhaps large grower operations will struggle to break even with the forward contract pricing figures in place at this time.
To be blunt, the time has arrived for small growers to either adapt or perish. Not only is economic survival paramount, the continuing legacies of multi-generational citrus growers are at stake.
Farming is a time-demanding occupation, and small citrus growers are no exception. Traditional niche markets such as u-pick or local farmers markets are logical choices for the dooryard grower. However, they are impractical for small commercial growers because they have more fruit to sell than these markets can typically absorb, and the grower has little to no time available to be a self-marketer. Therefore, what is needed is an innovative approach and a competent support network to facilitate the exploration, establishment and maintenance of new niche markets designed specifically to assist small growers.
SUCCESS STORY IN GEORGIA
A phenomenal, real-time example of marketing for small growers was accomplished in Georgia and should be a model for consideration for small Florida growers. The Georgia Department of Agriculture stepped up on behalf of the state’s produce growers, knowing they were certain to suffer major losses from unharvested crops due to COVID-19. The department’s marketing division, known as Georgia Grown, hired an events promotion company to coordinate a series of pop-up produce markets with COVID-19 safeguards in place. These events were advertised on social media as “Georgia Grown-to-Go” produce pickup sites and were held at various locations around the state in proximity to major urban areas.
Customers were offered boxes of assorted fruits and vegetables freshly harvested from nearby producers. Most of the sales were prepaid, so all customers needed to do was drive up, open their vehicle to receive the boxes and go. Thousands of cars passed through these events. In some locations, over $100,000 of farm-to-table produce was sold in a matter of hours! Not only is this a profound example of how to create a spontaneous niche market, equally important is the bond of loyalty shown by the residents of Georgia by supporting their local growers in a time of crisis.
SEEKING SOLUTIONS FROM FRESH FROM FLORIDA
Small citrus growers in Florida could benefit from this type of program. It is imperative to find a dependable ally going forward as money is invested in growing crops for the upcoming season. Therefore, a group of my fellow small citrus growers in the north-central region of Florida have requested assistance from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services marketing division known as Fresh from Florida. The objective is to help us gain market exposure directly to consumers via an experienced market support agency. We are asking for practical strategies to enhance our ability to survive in today’s marketplace.
For example, mobile fresh-squeezed juice stations offering grower-direct fruit and juice for sale are a prime way to generate point-of-sale revenues. Not only will consumers be enjoying superior-quality, fresh products, they will also be inclined to remember where the fruit originated from and in turn build a loyal bond of trust with the growers.
We are confident Fresh from Florida’s hard-working and dedicated staff can create sales opportunities for small citrus growers that would be virtually impossible for us to achieve by ourselves. Stay tuned for developments!
Chip Henry (email@example.com) grows citrus at McGuire Groves in Apopka, Florida.