A Fresh Approach

Daniel Cooper CRAFT, Fresh, Packing

Doug Feek with his daughter Jordan
Photo by Tacy Callies

Despite the challenges of the Florida citrus industry, Feek Family Citrus continues to successfully grow, pack and ship fresh fruit.

In an effort to discourage his son from working in the citrus business, Doug Feek’s father gave him all the worst jobs to do in the family’s small grove.

“He wanted me to save my back and work a desk job, but I always had an interest in citrus,” says Doug, managing partner of Feek Family Citrus.

Doug worked at Evans Properties nursery during high school and while studying citrus and business at Florida Southern College. After graduation, he worked for Seald Sweet as a sales manager in the export department.


In 1991, Doug and his wife Melanie founded DLF International in Fort Pierce, Florida, an export brokerage shipping fresh citrus from packinghouses to Europe and the Pacific Rim.

“In the early 2000s, we realized we needed to work directly with growers to have a more reliable fruit source and more control over how we packed for our customers,” says Doug. “In 2008, we leased a packinghouse from Seald Sweet and purchased it in 2012. That same year, we planted our first grove in Vero Beach and bought one in Polk County. In 2018, we bought 1,900 acres in Saint Lucie and Indian River counties.”

Whie DLF International began as solely a marketer, the business grew to become a packer, grower and shipper. Today, the company has a new name, Feek Family Citrus, and a new focus, serving the domestic market.

“If there is ever an oversupply, we will go back to exporting, but for now we are taking care of the home market,” says Doug.

Customers include retailers, wholesalers, the food service industry, fruit stands, fresh juice-squeezing companies and more. Feek Family Citrus works with about 15 growers throughout Florida to supply its clients.


Melanie oversees the financial side of the business while Doug manages operations. Their daughter Jordan joined the company in 2020 as director of marketing and data analysis. One of her roles is to coordinate grove programs, including Citrus Research and Field Trial (CRAFT) projects and the Tree Assistance Program.

When Jordan joined the company, the family began discussing a name change for the business. DLF International no longer fit the bill as the company had transitioned to serving the domestic market. And the DLF letters (Doug’s initials, although he jokes DLF stands for Delicious Luscious Fruit) didn’t mean anything to most people. After a good year of discussing names, it was decided to rebrand DLF International as Feek Family Citrus.

Jordan says what she likes best about working in the family business is having a close relationship with her parents and the example they set as involved, hands-on managers. Jordan recently redid the company’s website and is working on rebranding efforts with the new company name while also attending industry events, meeting with customers and helping with administrative projects.

Doug and Melanie are excited that their son Jared just recently decided to join the family business. Jared will be helping with human resources while learning current operations with expectations of bringing new insight and ideas for the future.

“I’m bullish about the future of the citrus business. I wouldn’t let my kids come into the business if I didn’t believe in it,” says Doug.

He thinks there could be a glut of Florida grapefruit in five to seven years due to citrus under protective screen plantings as well as new field plantings in Florida and Texas.


Feek Family Citrus is using the CRAFT program to test trunk injection of oxytetracycline (OTC) and to plant new trees.

Early results from a CRAFT OTC project indicate less fruit drop in grapefruit and Valencia than in past years. Doug began trunk-injection therapy with Rectify, but trees were taking up to 24 hours to uptake the injection, and about 10% of trees didn’t take it up at all.

“We switched to ReMedium, and all trees were absorbing it in 30 minutes. This year, we’ll use ReMedium again. We’re waiting to see what the Brix will be for Valencias, but some growers are showing higher Brix already,” Doug says.

Another CRAFT project involves installing individual protective covers on resets. Feek Family Citrus plans to put in 25,000 resets this year and 32,000 next year. All resets will be on sour orange rootstock. Varieties will include Valencia and navel oranges, Star Ruby grapefruit and Honeybells.

A 30-acre solid set of sour oranges will also be planted, as demand is strong from the niche market that uses this fruit for barbecue sauces and marinades.

“We are patiently waiting for more opportunities to plant,” says Doug. “We don’t want to be the first to plant a new variety. We’d rather be the last to plant it once it is proven.”


In other areas of the business, the Feeks do not hesitate to try new things. One recent example is the installation of a potato sorter in the packinghouse.

“The potato sorter actually does what we need for citrus. It can separate fruit by color and size and for decay,” explains Doug. “And it doesn’t mind getting dirty or wet. We’re currently the only citrus packinghouse in Florida using this machine.”

The company buys a new piece of equipment each year in an effort to increase packinghouse efficiency.

Another example of doing things differently can be seen in the Feek groves.

“Grove manager Mike Harrison looks at a situation and comes up with unique solutions,” says Doug. “For example, instead of removing dead trees with a loader, his crew takes them out by hand with chainsaws. The cost is similar, and we haven’t had to worry about damaging good trees in the process. This has been a great success and allowed our packinghouse workers to extend their employment by working in the field.”


According to Doug, the Florida citrus business changes every year, so analyzing the market and knowing how to position the company is essential.


“We look at the market with an eye on trends that could affect the business,” notes Doug.

Current trends he’s watching include use of OTC, early orange varieties becoming more limited, and heavier Valencia production.

One way Feek Family Citrus is reacting to the reality of much of the crop coming in at the same time is with a new cooling facility (see “Stepping up cold storage” sidebar) that will enable the company to extend the citrus season.

“Doug has an optimistic zeal for the Florida fresh fruit citrus industry,” says Marty McKenna, president/owner of McKenna & Associates Citrus. “He sees opportunities in this difficult situation we are in with citrus. It’s really a refreshing outlook. His fresh fruit sales approach has moved an impactful volume of Florida citrus.”

John Whitehead, general manager of Barben Fruit Company, agrees. “We have used Feek Family Citrus almost exclusively to handle our fresh oranges and tangerines over the past 10 years,” says Whitehead. “It is not hyperbole to say that the relationship has had a significant impact on our bottom line. As our pound solids per box have declined due to HLB, going fresh has often meant the difference between making or losing money on crops. In my opinion, availability of other avenues to market our fruit beyond the juice market is vital to the sustainability of Florida citrus.

“Working with Feek Family Citrus has been invaluable to me on a personal level. Like many of us in this industry, reality has been mentally taxing. Doug’s optimism regarding Florida citrus is exactly what I need to hear. The glass is always half full with him, and it’s not just empty words. That sense of optimism has freed him up to continuously make significant investments in technology in the packinghouse to improve their product and increase productivity. That is why they are still viable while many other packinghouses have fallen by the wayside. I truly believe that if we are going to survive as an industry, it will be because of people like Doug who not only believe in its future but are willing to fight for it.”

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About the Author

Tacy Callies

Editor of Citrus Industry magazine

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