The COVID-19 Effect on Citrus Packing in Florida

Steven Callaham of Dundee Citrus

2020 Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Award winner Steven Callaham has tried a proactive approach to dealing with the food chain challenges brought on by the coronavirus.
Photo by Frank Giles

This is the third installment of four special features honoring the 2020 Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Award winner, Steven Callaham, CEO of the Dundee Citrus Growers Association.

What weak spots in the food distribution channel were exposed due to the coronavirus shutdown, and do you think adjustments can be made to minimize disruptions as much as possible in the future?

CALLAHAM: There were major disruptions in the food distribution chain created by COVID-19. Grocery distribution center personnel were over-whelmed by the increased demand for certain products. This forced store buyers to prioritize their orders, giving preferential treatment to paper products, cleaning supplies, canned goods, and frozen items. We are still evaluating what took place and what is continuing to shape decisions in the market. We will take what we have learned thus far and educate ourselves, so we make more informed decisions and minimize future disruptions.

How did COVID-19 impact operations at Dundee Citrus Growers Association as the season wound up?

CALLAHAM: Our company was very fortunate to be able to finish our harvesting and packing season without any COVID-19-related illnesses. We have always had very strict cleaning and sanitation protocols in place, but we took those to an extreme level in response to the pandemic.

Are there plans to adjust operations going into the next season?

CALLAHAM: Over the summer months, we are making numerous changes inside the packing house. Installing barriers between each packer and grader station is just one example. We continually monitor the latest Center for Disease Control guidelines to ensure we are doing everything possible to protect the health and well-being of our employees.

Has the pandemic created increased demand for the fresh fruit that you market?

CALLAHAM: I can’t say that the pandemic has increased the demand for all fresh fruit, but it has for fresh citrus. Through the pandemic, consumers are looking to eat healthier and citrus provides a great source of vitamin C. We are optimistic this trend will continue.

Special thanks to UPL for the sponsoring the Citrus Achievement Award program.

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