Nearly 90 and better than ever

Almost 90 years ago, a group of citrus growers got together in the tiny Florida town of Dundee and decided to work together to create a brighter future. They formed the Dundee Citrus Growers Association.

They elected a board of directors, developed bylaws and chose a name under which their fruit would be sold: Dun-D.  Over the years, other names were used such as Brimful, Searcher, Telefone, Atlantic, Capital and more.

Several years later, the group decided to build a packinghouse. A newspaper article at the time said, “This building is being constructed of steel and metal siding and will be equipped with one large unit consisting of five double belt sizers.” The building also boasted ten coloring rooms, concrete floors throughout and room for a precooler to be added at a later date. The capacity of the packinghouse was predicted to be “about six cars of oranges or ten of grapefruit per day.

The citrus industry was changing every year. In 1935, the Florida Citrus Commission was formed to create standards, control quality, handle promotion and conduct research. The commission was authorized to levy an excise tax for advertising and merchandising, conduct research to develop new products and to police the industry through regulations that controlled methods of harvesting, grading, packing, canning and coloring citrus fruit.

The Dundee group as well as others in the industry faced changing fortunes in the 1930s and ’40s as a result of the Great Depression and World War II. Labor was scarce, and membership declined. But a new opportunity emerged with the development of frozen concentrate orange juice in 1946. Once perfected, it was known as the “Cinderella product.”

Over the next several decades, Dundee Citrus Growers Association had its share of problems, including continued labor challenges, Mediterranean fruit flies, hurricanes, freezes and diseases. By the late 1990s, members decided to make the biggest change in their organization since its formation — one that would pave the road for their future success.  Lake Wales Citrus Growers Association and Winter Haven Citrus Growers Association closed their packinghouses and became members of Dundee in 1999.  In 2004 Lake Region Packing joined the group as well.

Steven B. Callaham serves as executive vice president and CEO of Dundee Citrus Growers Association.

The consolidation created an organization that better served the growers, marketers and consumers through increased efficiencies and easier access to product. Steven B. Callaham is the executive vice president and CEO of Dundee Citrus Growers Association, coming over from the Lake Wales Citrus Growers Association during the consolidation.

“Back then, the state of Florida had more packing houses than it needed to efficiently pack and ship the amount of fruit the industry had available for the fresh market,” Callaham said.  “The packinghouses that were running 500,000 to a million cartons a year just really couldn’t do it that efficiently. So coming together helped everybody. It allowed us to consolidate and pool our resources, including harvesting and hauling operations, have the critical mass to operate more efficiently and have the buying power to buy equipment and supplies at a better price. Consolidation has allowed us to achieve things for the benefit of our members that we could have never accomplished alone,” he said.

Dundee Citrus Growers Association’s harvesting affiliate company, Statewide Harvesting and Hauling, uses workers through the H-2A guest worker program. FFVA acts as the agent for their organization during this process.  Another wholly owned subsidiary, Florida Classic Growers, handles the associations sales and marketing.

A domestic shipper of oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, tangelos and peaches, today the association offers product year-round. “We start harvesting in early September,” Callaham said. “We typically pack fruit off the tree through June and utilize our cold storage facilities to extend our Valencia season through the rest of the summer months. So we try to offer fruit 12 months – which is efficient and helps retain employees and customers.”  In addition, about four years ago the association developed a subsidiary to handle peaches, Dundee Stone Fruit Growers Association.

The association grows more than 10,000 acres of citrus and 300 acres of peaches among 200-plus growers. About 60 percent of its fruit goes to the fresh market and 40 percent is processed into juice. Dundee is a member of Florida’s Natural Growers, so product it doesn’t pack goes to the cooperative.

The association runs two main packing locations, in Dundee and in nearby Lake Hamilton.  “And our newest facility handles all our peach packing and fundraising programs as well as our gift fruit packing,” said Callaham. “We provide a full line of gift fruit services to many gift fruit companies across the state.  In addition to providing the fruit we offer custom packaging, call center services, and catalog development,” he said.

Lindsay Raley serves as president and chairman of the board, continuing a family tradition. Both of his parents were instrumental in the association’s success over the years. Chief financial officer is Mary Schaal and Greg Dunnahoe is chief operations officer.

Callaham names diseases such as citrus greening, citrus canker and citrus black spot as major concerns facing his industry. He also believes strongly in developing new varieties to stay competitive in the produce category.  “We have to understand and focus on trying to produce what the consumer wants. There are some very exciting varieties and programs coming out of the New Varieties Development and Management Corporation,” he said.

Learn more about Dundee Citrus Growers Association by browsing through its website.

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