When Hurricane Richard swept thru Belize last October, it decimated hundreds of acres of citrus orchards in the south, leaving dozens of growers in near financial ruin. It was a major setback for the industry that was already hurting from low prices. But that same storm that brought so much ruin and destruction, also did something remarkable.
The shock from the storm stimulated an early bloom in this year's crop, and growers are reaping the benefits of that now in the form of thousands of boxes of early oranges. That's good news, right? Especially when you couple that with the fact that this year, World Market prices for oranges and grapefruits are at their highest! Anxious to take advantage of that fact, growers have been anticipating the opening of the CPBL processing plant which is scheduled for next Wednesday, November 2nd.
But the CEO of the plant, Dr. Henry Canton, no stranger to controversy in the industry, says not so fast! He is not ready to accept any deliveries of early oranges because according to him, the sample tests that have been done so far on the early oranges, show they do not meet the minimum quality standards of the industry. That decision by Canton is facing stiff challenges, and this time it's coming from an unusual alliance that's made up of the industry's two feuding associations, the Citrus Growers' Association and Belize Citrus Mutual, of which William Bowman is a member and also one of the industry's largest growers. He says Canton's statement flies in the face of a number of sample tests that prove otherwise. Bowman claims his farms alone have more than 40 Thousand boxes of oranges that are ready for delivery to the plant, and, already 3 Thousand boxes have gone bad, with that figure expected to rise in the coming weeks if the decision by Canton holds.
CEO of the Citrus Growers Association, Henry Anderson says Canton is failing once again in his responsibilities to the growers and the industry. Anderson says, with early oranges falling off the trees, it is foolish that Canton, in the interest of the growers, would not want to take advantage of such a ripe and abundant harvest. But Canton maintains that while the growers are willing to sacrifice quality for this year's attractive market prices, he is not!
A meeting planned for yesterday between the CGA and CPBL has been re-scheduled for tomorrow.
According to Dr. Canton the industry is hoping to export anywhere from 5 to 6 million boxes of oranges and one million boxes of grapefruit this year. That is assuming, all ends well with the feuding factions!