There has been much discussion in the Florida Fresh Citrus Industry about the possibility of handling lemons in a conventional packing house. The advantages of keeping idle machinery and key people productive in the summer months are obvious if the special problems of handling this variety can be overcome.

This can be done and is being done successfully by two Florida Packing Houses, Golden Gem Growers, Inc. in Umatilla and Gracewood Fruit Company in Vero Beach.

This concept requires a few specific facilities which are not found in all Florida packing houses but are present in many. This paper will discuss these facilities plus others which are desirable if available.

The Fresh Lemon Industry in Florida is a young and growing industry. It is rather unique in that the fruit matures during a time of year when no other Florida Citrus is in season. Since the major problem facing most Florida fresh fruit operations is the lack of full utilization of packing equipment, there has been some interest in utilizing this idle capacity during the summer for packing lemons. There has been much debate over the wisdom of this approach since the handling of lemons in a conventional packing house presents many difficulties which must be solved to have a successful operation.

The basic technology for packing fresh Florida Lemons has been worked out for several years. The ideal situation of course is to have a packing plant designed specifically for lemons which would run lemons only. It would have all the machinery, equipment, and cold rooms necessary to do a good job. However, the only way this approach can be justified is to control enough lemons that this plant could be operated for several months each year. It would require approximately one-half the present bearing acreage of Florida Lemons to support such a plant.

Therefore the ideal situation for a company with a conventional packing house with nothing to pack in August and usually September would be to pack lemons in this plant if the obstacles can be overcome. The advantages of such an operation are fairly obvious. The units packed during this period could do much to lower the unit overhead cost for the entire year. In addition the Supervisory and other Key people would become much more productive during this period of time. The same is true for the sales organization. This is the line of reasoning that led us into the fresh lemon packing business.

In 1970 one of our members, Callery-Judge Groves requested we consider packing fresh lemons since they grew lemons and were very interested in having them packed fresh if at all possible. They furnished the fruit to experiment with so that we could find out how our machinery would do with lemons. Our first experiment was with twelve pallet bins of lemons which we handled in many different ways. After this experiment they furnished us with two trailer loads of lemons which we packed and sold on the fresh fruit market with good results. From that cautious beginning this operation has grown to the point where we stay extremely busy on lemons during the months of August and September, sometimes beginning in July and ending in October.

To further discuss this subject I would like to break it down into several points which I consider important in the handling of fresh lemons in a conventional packing house. The first four points are absolutely essential. The remaining points are certainly desirable, but not as important as the first four.

Paper published with permission.

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