Citrus Achievement Award Winner Talks New Varieties and COVID-19 Lessons Learned

Larry Black of Peace River Packing Company

Larry Black was named Florida Grower’s 2021 Citrus Achievement Award winner.
Photo by Frank Giles

This the first installment of four special Q&A features honoring Larry Black, the 2021 Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Award winner. He is VP and General Manager of Ft. Meade, FL-based Peace River Packing Co.

Are you experimenting with any of the newer citrus varieties?

BLACK: Yes, we have planted about 100 acres of ‘Bingo’, which we are excited about because it appears to have some tolerance to HLB. It also has great consumer appeal (flavor, seedless, easy peel) and is in a good market window. We’ve definitely run into a few production challenges with it, but hopefully we’ll figure out how to navigate those issues, because it could be a great variety.

On the juice side, we have planted ‘Valquarius’. It is an early season Valencia that we’ve had some success with, so we have increased our acreage of the variety.

How did COVID-19 impact your operations last season?

BLACK: The pandemic hit right at the peak of our season last year. We recognized that we had to get the crop harvested and packed. We followed all the safety guidelines put forth by CDC and made sure our employees were working in as safe an environment as possible. Fortunately, we were able to navigate through that period with very little infections, none of which traced back to our operations.

I think our industry benefited from COVID-19 because people were reminded about the health and immunity benefits of citrus products. And their buying habits changed, eating more from home. Both those things helped improve sales. It shows you what a good job marketing and promotion can do. For years, we have preached the health benefits of OJ and fresh citrus. I think people remembered it and that’s why they gravitated to us during the COVID era.

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