The Hunt Bros. citrus packinghouse in Lake Wales will close for good at the end of this season, primarily due to the impacts of Hurricane Irma on company groves in 2017. The family-owned packinghouse opened in 1928. Frank Hunt III, an owner, discussed the closing in an April 22 letter to employees:
“It was certainly our desire to keep it (the packinghouse) going. Prior to Hurricane Irma, we were surviving and perhaps even thriving. In fact, in the 2016–17 season we had the second most shipments of all Florida packinghouses. With Irma, the packinghouse lost its fruit supply overnight. We have held on the last 5 years hoping the trees would bounce back, but unfortunately, they are crashing and must be replanted. That means possibly a decade before supplies will return to pre-Irma levels. To fund the replanting, it has been necessary for Hunt Bros. to sell nearly 1,000 acres of grove, further reducing our fruit supply. The combination of reduced overall fruit supply and the loss of most non-Valencia varieties has made continuing the packinghouse unsustainable … It is my expectation that we will pack our last carton on May 6.”
Hunt Bros. packed primarily oranges, along with grapefruit and mandarins, said former Citrus Administrative Committee (CAC) manager Duke Chadwell. He said Hunt Bros. grew much processed fruit for Citrus World in addition to growing fresh fruit for the packinghouse.
Chadwell said members of the Hunt family “were always actively involved in the fresh fruit organizations and served in leadership roles.” He added that Frank Hunt III was a former president of Florida Citrus Packers, and that several Hunt family members had served on the CAC. The CAC administers a federal marketing order for Florida fresh fruit.
“They were there for the betterment of the industry. They looked at the big picture of what was best for the industry,” Chadwell concluded.
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