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Oct 27, 2003

Citrus growers optimistic about future

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Prices are not what they should be and production has yet to return to record levels…but tonight there is optimism in Belize’s citrus industry, an optimism based on improved competitive efficiency and the fact that for the first time growers are the masters of their own fate. Patrick Jones reports on this weekend’s activities in the Stann Creek Valley.

Patrick Jones, Reporting

Hundreds of farmers from all over the country converged on the headquarters of the Citrus Growers Association at mile nine on the Stann Creek Valley Road to hear how their representative body–and the industry as a whole–performed last year.

The thirty-sixth annual General Meeting of the Citrus Growers Association is perhaps the most significant of the previous gatherings. This is the first yearly report since Belizean growers assumed full control of the industry. Chief Executive Officer of C.G.A., Bridget Cullerton, says while the crop year for 2002-2003 was small, there was greater efficiency in the industry.

Bridget Cullerton, Chief Executive Officer, C.G.A.

“And even though growers weren’t able to do the kind of maybe expansion of groves that in the past might have occurred, they were able to do better with the little they have. And that’s an indication that our growers are getting to be much more competitive, which is an area we are pushing because of the whole globalisation.”

The meeting heard reports from its three subsidiaries, the Citrus Growers and Worker’s Credit Union, the Association’s Investment Company, and the recently acquired Citrus Products of Belize Limited, formerly Del Oro. C.E.O. of Citrus Products of Belize Limited, Henry Canton, says while it was not a good year financially, there were positive gains.

Henry Canton, C.E.O., Citrus Products of Belize

“We’re going to post another loss. Our loss if we had gone as budgeted would have been almost break even or just a little, because we had estimated to have had six million boxes of fruit production and we ended with only five point one at the prices we have a million box fall in production to the factory, it created a much larger loss than we expected, but our losses are better than half what the previous company used to post consistently. They posted seven, eight, nine million dollars loss. And we are thinking that we’ll come in somewhere around three million this year.”

Bridget Cullerton

“We are looking for at least another two years to really get out of the woods where we’ll begin to see some actual dividends beginning to be shared. But even at this moment while the bottom line might still show some debt, growers are reaping the benefit because we are able to get better prices for the growers because they own it, and that’s the bottom line for growers.”

C.G.A. officials say the positive turn around can be traced directly to a decision taken last year to institute a pound-solids system for orange processing.

William Bowman, Chairman, C.G.A.

“I would say implementing that pound-solids is a major step forward because we focus on quality. By the growers delivering quality fruit, the product that we manufacture is of better quality. We get higher yield in the factory, we sell on the foreign market on the pound-solid basis, and so naturally the more pound solid we get in the more of the revenue the grower will participate in.”

Bowman says that during the first full year of implementation, more than seventy-five percent of the growers, earned more than they would have gotten under the old system. Prior to the last crop year, the C.G.A. paid out an average five dollars and ninety cents per box. Bowman says last year the majority of these same farmers collected between six and seven dollars per box under new system. Cullerton says the change in rewarding quality instead of quantity has also had positive implications for Belizean citrus products on the external market, doubling the country’s share of the Caribbean market.

Bridget Cullerton

“And this past year one of the accomplishments that has been achieved since our acquisition has been that we have been able to increase that Caribbean market share to well over thirty percent. So we’ve doubled there, and that’s our idea, because we are able to garner a higher price from our sister nations because of the lack of tariff issues there to be able to garner the higher prices, and that’s what we want.”

And with the positive developments over the last twelve months, the C.G.A. Chairman says it was worth the while for growers to take full control of the industry.

William Bowman

“Most definitely Patrick because growers now have a sense of ownership of the whole industry. As you know all the groves are in the growers hands and the Citrus Growers Association owns the processing facility. The growers are putting more effort to make it a success and to make it sustainable as they are part of it and they feel that. So it definitely was a positive move and the response I’ve seen over the past year proves that to where production is now increasing.”

Patrick Jones, for News 5.

Also during the A.G.M., four members were elected to the board of directors. William Bowman and Richard Pollack were re-elected while the two new board members are Steven Downard and Henry Canton. A Chairman of the Board will be chosen when the new board holds its first meeting on Thursday. Citrus exports brought in an estimated thirty-six million U.S. dollars for the most recent crop year.

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