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Sunny days for local citrus industry

By EDDY RAMIREZ
Published January 21, 2007


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From the groves, the workers who pick fruit ask for more bins. The ones they brought out earlier are quickly filling up. All the while customers come and go, lugging with them bushels of citrus fruit. One woman walks out with three Wal-Mart plastic bags that are packed with navel oranges as big as bocce balls.

If only California growers were blessed with the same 70-degree weather and plenty of sun.

"I feel sorry for them," White said before quickly changing his mind and adding that he didn't get a single sympathy card from California when a freeze in 1983 wiped out his entire crop and the rest of Florida's.

A recent cold snap across California has caused widespread damage to the state's produce, including its vast supply of navel oranges.

As a result, orange juice prices at big-name stores across the U.S. have jumped 3.5 percent, the most in two months.

Florida, which is the biggest U.S. orange grower and produces more than 90 percent of juice, could see the benefits if demand goes up.

So far, White and his wife, Margaret, who have been selling oranges and freshly squeezed juice from their stand on Pleasant Grove Road since 1983, haven't seen too many new customers. But White said a friend in Brooksville, a grower who produces orange juice, has had more business than usual.

White, who has only had two profitable years selling oranges, said he wouldn't mind cashing in on California's loss. But he won't be too bothered if he doesn't either.

Running his grove and fruit stand is more a hobby than a business.

"You've got to be a little stupid to do it," he said, noting that canker outbreaks and hurricanes make growing oranges a risky business venture. "Basically you have to enjoy it."

A retired architect, White says the farm keeps him busy. He likes chatting with customers who have been coming there for years. When he's not selling oranges, he's high in the sky, flying his single-engine fighter plane, which he keeps at the farm.

"It's an event," he said, referring to his farm.

The Whites greet customers weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

If people want to buy oranges on Sundays or after closing time, they are free to do so. A refrigerator and crates of oranges are outside and the prices are listed on a small white-board. A cardboard sign instructs customers to deposit money through a slit on the wall.

"We're on the honor system," Margaret White said.

Customers appreciate the friendly service and love the prices.

Nancy Oliveri drives once a week from Pine Ridge to the farm in Inverness to stock up on navel oranges. She loves how plump and juicy they are.

She said she won't go to the supermarket because prices are too high - especially now.

One store was selling tangerines for 60 cents each the other day, she said. At Flying "W" Farms, she can buy four navel oranges for a dollar.

"As long as John and Margaret are here," she said, "I don't have to worry about a thing."

Eddy Ramirez can be reached at eramirez@sptimes.com or 352 860-7305.

26 0

Temperatures from weather.com

The average highs and lows during the past seven days in Inverness and in Fresno, which is in California's San Joaquin Valley, the state's top producer of navel oranges:

Inverness

73 0

51 0

Fresno

48 0

26 0

As a general rule, when the temperature drops to 27 degrees or below for more than four hours, orange and grapefruit trees begin to suffer damage.

Temperatures from weather.com

Inverness

[Last modified January 21, 2007, 00:59:01]


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