Thursday, August 13, 2009

Orange Pick - Take 2

The orange pick this year took place in June and I am a bit late in updating our blog.

If any of you remember from last year, we had a decent crop, around 1,380 bags, which was two full trailers. We had a lot of rain while completing the 2nd trailer full and it was my first experience trying to organize such a project; all with very limited skills communicating in Spanish and a truck that was trying to fall apart in the process..

To finish up the saga from last year, when we started the pick, the juice plant was going to pay approximately $10.73BLZ for each bag delivered and accepted at the plant. In the end, they settled for around $8.48/bag. I am still not really sure how a citrus grower here can work with delivering a crop being promised a specific price and then accepting approximately 20% less when the final checks are cut.

Anyway, this year ended up being a bit different.

To start with, I contacted the processing plant and the current price for each bag delivered and accepted was $5.42BLZ. I was starting to wonder if this was really going to be worth our efforts since our variable costs for running the pick would just barely be covered. And, what if they drop the final settlement again by 20% for some reason? But, in talking with Mark, the owner of the property, we decided to do the pick to clear out the fruit and at least provide a couple of days of work for some of the local families since jobs are so scarce here. So, off I went to organize the pick.

While looking around for a trucker this year, I actually had a number of haulers to contact and hopefully get a little better rate since the price for oranges was so low. I went in search of a friend that works at Central Farm who knows a trucker; I found him, he contacted his friend and found that his truck was broken down. So I then tracked down another friend of mine and his trailer was broken. I then went to the trucker we used last year; his trucks were still working and his price was the same as last year. One reason I was thinking that his price would go down since fuel prices have fallen 1/3 since last year, but like what usually happens, prices go up due to fuel costs and then never come back down. Since I had no other options, and he said that was what the other groves were paying, I agreed.

One nice thing about the pick from last year, we had all the bags we would need for the pick this year. Since we ran out of bags DURING the pick last year, this constituted an emergency, but this year we were all set.

The work force was my next item on my list. Since last year, we have let go two caretakers that weren’t working out and at this point we have a great guy, Julio, from the village of 7 Miles – El Progresso, taking care of the property. Last year Julio helped me communicate with people quite a bit during the pick since my Spanish is so poor and he is bilingual. I talked with Julio, he said the trees had a lot less fruit than last year but he (and I) did not have the expertise to know how little fruit there was this year. So Julio talked with his buddies in town and we were set for workers.

Next, I contacted the processing plant and they told me that I had to come down and get a new license since there were some changes in their organization. This meant I had to get passport photos and drive down to Dangriga to their office. Marge and I packed up the Jack Russells, took a few oranges from the grove, dressed in our “town” clothes (for Marge, a dress, for me, nice shorts and a button down shirt) and made the 90 mile drive which takes around 2 hours. When we got to the plant with the orange samples, I found that I could not go into the office since I was wearing shorts! The security guard was nice enough about it though and took the samples in for us and brought out the results, the oranges were ready. We then proceeded down the road to the office to get the new license. Once inside, I found the gentleman I had been emailing, presented my photos, and asked what else I had to fill out. He looked through a couple of files and found our license from last year and said we were all set – I didn’t have to come in! So, a wasted trip, wear and tear on the little truck, fuel, and a day of driving around all for nothing. Oh well, that’s the way it goes here sometimes, you have to show your face to get things all lined up. We scheduled 2 trailer loads to be delivered and we were back on the road again.

The scheduled days for the pick were fit between guests staying here at Moonracer Farm and we started right on schedule. I got to the grove mid morning to find that Julio had lined up seven guys to start with to see what we were looking at for the total pick. By noon, after counting what was picked all ready and what was left, our estimate was that we were only going to get about 300 bags! What a disappointment since last year we did almost 1400 bags!

We finished the pick half way into the 2nd day and just like last year, it started to POUR. You want to see the end of the rainy season? Just have me schedule an orange pick. I talked to the guys (completely in Spanish) and we worked out a deal to work hard for the second half of the day, and until the job was done, to haul all the oranges to the trailer out front so that no one had to come back in the morning. I really wanted to get it done since it was raining (and once it starts, you never know how long and hard it will last) and I was not sure if I would be able to get enough guys together the following day for a partial day of work. The guys were great, they worked hard, joked around, poked fun at “the gringo” (me) when I was working along side of them, and we turned it into what I always try to do with work, make it fun and light hearted while working so everyone is having a good time getting the work done.

At the end of the day, we only had the trailer less than 1/3 full but that was all the grove had for us. I called the trucker from Julio’s home phone in 7 Miles (no cell reception in our area), and the trucker came out and picked up the trailer the following morning. I had to work out a deal with the trucker since the load was so small and he was supposed to get paid by the bag, but if I was a stickler and held him to the original deal, he would not even be able to cover the cost of the fuel to run the oranges down to Dangriga, and I want to be able to treat all business people here fairly so that if/when I need him next year, I can count on a fair deal in the future.

So, all said and done, we did not fair so well financially with the pick this year since the crop was so small and the factory was paying so little for the fruit. However, I talked with a number of other growers and found that most farms were experiencing harvests of less than ½ of the previous year as well. I could never get a straight answer from anyone but from what I could piece together from living here since the last pick, the flood in October may have really hurt our crop this year. There has been a lack of honey in the market due to many of the bees dieing off from the flooding and many of the flowers and tree buds were damaged with all the rain and flooding. Nothing scientific, but just observations from a very inexperienced “farmer”.

Hopefully next year will be a more productive year and the orange prices will go up to help us maintain a small independent orange grove up here near the Pine Ridge.

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