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Producing Excellence

Larry and Jenny Black

Fort Meade, FL

Citrus Operations

Products Raised or Grown: Oranges and Tangerines

Size of Operation: 200 acres

In Business Since: 2002

Farm Credit Partner: Farm Credit of Central Florida

Working with Farm Credit Since: 2004

Walking through the produce section of any grocery store, it’s hard to miss the bright color of ripened oranges. It’s also hard to imagine that an invasive disease targeting the nation’s orange crop is literally changing the industry.

As a grower and general manager of Peace River Packing, a citrus caretaking and packing/marketing cooperative, Larry Black understands the problem better than most, and is at the forefront of addressing the challenges of citrus greening, a bacterial disease carried by insects that infects entire trees, preventing the fruit from developing. This leads to lower production and contributes to higher prices for consumers.

One way growers are adapting in the face of this disease is to change their groves from the outset, shifting to more densely packed trees. “We know that the trees aren’t going to live as long, so we need to get earlier yields,” Larry says. Gone are the days of wide avenues between broad, spreading orange trees, which typically lived for 25 – 30 years; now, growers anticipate removing trees after just 15 years.

Containing the disease has also led to more consolidation in the industry, which helps with operational efficiency as well as enabling broader, more consistent horticultural programs and insect control. Larry himself has been following a plan of steady expansion, acquiring groves with financing from Farm Credit of Central Florida, on whose board Jenny now sits. He’s increased his acreage from nine acres in 1997 to 200 acres today, saying, “Our first goal is to increase and stabilize production, then we look for opportunities to make strategic acquisitions that would enlarge the farm.”

Larry’s extended family is also widely involved in citrus growing and operates Peace River Packing Company, a customer-member of CoBank, another Farm Credit entity. Larry leads the family operation as they work to expand their holdings, which are managed as one large 1,900 acre operation. The cooperative packages and markets their fruit, primarily to grocery store chains, food service companies and brokers. Most of their oranges – 60% – are sold in display-ready cardboard cartons; the remaining 40% is sold in consumer-friendly bags.

Two years ago, Larry and his wife, Jenny, were recognized by the Florida Farm Bureau with a Young Farmer and Rancher of the Year Award, based both on their successful farming and on Larry’s extensive community and industry involvement. “I’m in constant pursuit of improving my farming operation and moving in a positive direction,” Larry says. “I also really believe in giving back to the industry and community that’s been so good to me.”

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