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Citrus Oral History Project Globalization Research Center University of South Florida Interview with: Ben Hill Griffin III Interviewed by: William Mansfield Location: Frostproof, Florida Date: May 9, 2005 Transcribed by: Wm. Mansfield Edited by: Ben Hill Griffin III & Wm. Mansfield [Tape 1, Side A.] Bill Mansfield: I always put a label on the disc by saying that this is Bill Mansfield, from the University of South Floridas Globalization Research Center talking to Mr. Ben Hill Griffin III, on May 9, 2005 right here in his office in Frostproof, Florida. And Mr. Griffin we always get people to start out by having them state their name and telling us when they were born and where they were born. So let er go. Ben Hill Griffin III: Okay. My name is Ben Hill Griffin III. I was born March 3, 1942. Ive lived all of my life in Frostproof, Florida. I was born in the Lake Wales hospital, some fifteen miles away. Mansfield: Okay. Tell me about your education. Griffin: Basically my education is coming throug h the local schools then I went to the University of Florida, and my education concluded with an Associate of Arts Degree. But I generally tell people my education started when I was about six or seven years old, when I was put in the orange groves, with m y fathers direction, to learn it from the ground up. So I never had any question as to what I was going to be doing in life. I knew what my career was going to be. Mansfield: So youve been working with oranges your whole life? Griffin: Oh yes.
2 Mansfi eld: How would you describe your current occupation? Griffin: Well, my current occupation is chief executive officer over very highly, vertically integrated citrus organization, starting with groves, nurseries, citrus trees, oranges grapefruit tangerines, etc. Also, in our vertical integration we own a dry mix fertilizer plant. I think were the second largest dry mix fertilizer plant from a single plant operation [in Florida] and we have a fresh fruit packinghouse. We were twice in the citrus processing b usiness. Which took us around the world in a concentrated form of juices, from the market, to the consumer. But were no longer in the processing business. My father sold our first processing plant in 1980 and I bought another one in 1992. Ive since sold that plant I bought in 1992. Were also in the cattle business. Thats where Im going today, to my ranch. So as we finish here Ill be looking at cattle rather than oranges. Mansfield: [laughs] Okay, but before we go any further, you said you got your A A degree from the University of Florida, what year was that? Griffin: Not from the University of Florida, but from Florida Community College in Ocala, in 1963. Mansfield: Okay. One of the questions Ive been asking everybody is: how has current trade le gislation in relation to oranges how has that effective your business? Griffin: Current trade regulations basically have been in place to bring about fairness in international trade. Weve been living under those for quite sometime. Its not an uncommon thing, when you think about history. We used to have a sectionizing plant, whereby wed sectionize grapefruit and oranges. We ran that plant for some thirty years, until such time as the regulations were reduced to the point whereby citrus sections could be produced in Israel cheaper than what we could produce here in Florida. And when that came about and the market found
3 out where the cheapest product was, that brought about the demise of the sectionizing business in the state of Florida and the Florida citrus industry. It was a great loss. Mansfield: Tell me what sectionizing is. Thats a term Ive not heard before. Griffin: Sectionizing is when you take the pealing off of a grapefruit or an orange, down into the Albelo, which is the white covering. An d you take the pure [fruit] segments of the piece of fruit. You segment it with a knife and place [the fruit segments] into jars, or cans. You can find them in the stores today. Theyre just not produced in the states. They may be brought in by 55 gallon d rums and then consumer packed, but they are not produced in the state of Florida. Mansfield: And when did that happen? Griffin: That happened in the [early] eighties. It was concluded before 85. I would say 1985 was pretty much the end of it. At one tim e there were a number of sectionizing plants, but they dwindled. Its a highly labor intensive operation. The peeling actually became a mechanical operation, however the actual sectionizing remained a hand skill, basically [performed by] ladies. Mansfield : And I want to make sure I understand you correctly they removed the tariffs so that Israel became a more cost effective place for people to go [for sectionizing]? Griffin: Yes. They maintained the tariff on imports in the United States, from other count ries, with the exception of Israel. They either removed [the tariff] or lowered it to such a point to where we could not compete [price wise]. Mansfield: What kind of warning did you have about that?
4 Griffin: There was nothing other than typical communic ations as to staying up with the industry, staying up with what was going on in government, not unlike what were doing right now with the Brazilian tariff. It did not have the significance of the tariff [on oranges], in that the citrus industry lets say before the hurricanes were producing 50 million boxes of grapefruit, which includes red grapefruit and white grapefruit [thus] 50 million boxes [of grapefruit], verses 240 million boxes of oranges. So the economic drive train [gave] much more attention to oranges than was given to grapefruit. You know, If it doesnt hurt me why should I worry? But the loss was to the Florida citrus industry. [The production of grapefruit sections was important.] Mansfield: What changes do you foresee in the current ta riff situation? Griffin: I think the changes that [I] foresee is a heightening of the concern as to the loss of our tariffs on [Brazilian orange imports]. We have basically lost these tariffs, relative to Central America. But they are being maintained on Brazil. Brazil is the threat. Central American is not [a threat at this time]. Belize, Costa Rica, they have a lot of growing problems in [those countries] but Brazil is a much larger organization to be coming [up] against, because of its [size], because o f its more efficient production than Central America. [Brazil has] tremendous investments in processing plants, trucks, ships, [infrastructure], that these other small countries of Central America do not have. [Brazil] still has a long way to haul their p roduct once its processed. Some five hours, or so. However, once you get the trucks in line to do that why its just a matter of keeping fuel in them. So thats going be anticipated as part of doing business with them from now on. Mansfield: What how ca n I put this? How do you get your information about legislation concerning the tariff?
5 Griffin: The industry is certainly in a very elevated position of attention. We have industry committees that are now in place. It is their responsibility to bring act ion to maintain the tariff. Simply put itd be a form of lobbying effort to Washington. Weve got to remember that citrus is just a blip on the far horizon, relative to the economic dynamo of American industry. So, in Washington, when you mention the citr us industry it doesnt get much attention. After all, youve only have Florida, California, Texas, and a little bit in Arizona [that produces citrus]. (And Texas and Arizona dont really count because we pack more fruit in one packinghouse than the whole s tate can produce in a given year.) And California is a different entity, in that California [produces] 90% fresh fruit. They have a very small percentage of their [orange] production that goes into juice, because of their flavor is not as good [as ours]. S o Florida pretty much stands alone as being the orange juice, and I emphasize juice producer of our country. So we stay informed by knowing that we have a problem. We stay informed by securing professional assistance in Washington. We stay informed to the point that were making rather regular trips into Washington, to congress, to carry our message about Florida Citrus. Mansfield: Okay. You say you stay informed, but how? What or maybe I should ask about the professional assistance that that you all are receiving. What can you tell me about the lobbying effort? Griffin: Well, let me tell you that weve got about eleven million dollars thats being put [into lobbying] on an annual basis. So this is not just something that you pick up the newspaper to keep yourself informed. When youve got that kind of investment, that indicates I think to our size industry that were putting some strong money into our efforts to stay [pause] in communication with whats happening with the trade groups. Stay in communicat ion and participate all over the world, with the world trade organizations that we are taking part in; or working with them to see what is happening with other commodities [relative to tariff and government regulations].
6 Florida Citrus Mutual is the one t hats carrying the heaviest end of this banner. They are the largest citrus grower organization [in Florida]. And they are supported then by the other citrus grower organizations, such as the Indian River Citrus League, Highland County Citrus Growers Assoc iation, Peace River Citrus Growers Association and Florida Gulf [Citrus Growers]. Mansfield: I guess Im curious to get a little more of the details. Its like youve described the car, but Id like to know how the engine works. Griffin: Alright. We mee t on a monthly basis. Mansfield: You say we meet? Griffin: We, is a committee that has been formed [regarding] the Florida Tariff I forget the full professional name of it [Citrus Tariff Oversight Committee]. But it has been formed within the last tw o years to specifically address the tariff. Mansfield: Oh great! I hadnt heard about this. Griffin: Yes. We meet on a need to basis, but no less than quarterly. We over see a budget of some five, seven, ten million dollars, depending upon what wee think needs to be done. There are a couple of lobbyists that are well recognized in Washington. There is one, that Ill have to get you the name of, its Gump. Its very highly [thought of] and been in business a long time and been very effective. In the last year weve had considerable amount of time contributed by growers, processors, fresh fruit packers. Strong investments with in the industry that are going to Washington. They are meeting face to face with our [elected] representatives. Theyre meeting with the chairmen of the ag committees. They are meeting with the trade representatives of other countries. We are trying to get communications into the White House; which was very effectively done this past year.
7 Obviously, from a political standpoint, the Pr esident [of the United States] had to be pretty much interested in whatever Florida was going to be interested in [because Florida was a crucial state in the 2004 presidential election.] So it wasnt surprising that we could get the presidents ear, at th at time. What concerns me is whats going to happen when were needing to communicate with the president and hes not up for reelection? [chuckles] Thats a more difficult task. But weve got a message to sell. It is not something that we take lightly, tha t, that tariff will be maintained. Politically weve got the Democrats and as well as the Republicans, equally interested in [free] trade. And its rather frightening to us to see this happening because of the growing world and the shrinking Florida citru s industry. So when we get to thinking of agricultural commodities [such as] corn, verses citrus. Corn is grown in every state in the union [compared to citrus being produced only in two states.] Wheat and rye and those types of grains, we dont hold a can dle to them, in an economic standpoint of importance to the nation and the world. So we dont kid ourselves in that regard. [However citrus] is unique, we have a uniqueness here. We believe, with every ounce of our being that the citrus industry is vitall y important to our country. Should we loose the tariff we will become nothing more than [a people who are] at the mercy of Brazil. Brazil is down to two or three grower processor entities and of course they dont worry about trade negotiations. They meet i n private and set their prices and come forth and the American people dont have any protection [for food safety, quality competitive prices, USDA standards, chemical usage and so forth]. Im sure youve been exposed to the comments relative the regulatio ns in food safety; that, we here in Florida, have to adhere to. Thats not true in Brazil. They dont have any child labor laws down there. They dont have in OSHA in Brazil. They dont have any restrictions on chemicals. They use whatever chemicals they w ant [to use]. One day, potentially, we could really have a major problem [with] food safety, on the product thats being brought in from Brazil. And this applies to tomatoes in Mexico and all these other [food products].
8 In this country were greatly con cerned about food safety [for food thats] produced here. But that food produced outside [of the US] we have no regulations for those people. If we do [have regulations for imported food] theyre completely ignored. Mansfield: Ive heard other people talk about the advantages that Brazil enjoys, in terms of labor costs and the lack of regulations, but if you could, Id like for you to tell me more about the Florida Tariff Committee [Citrus Tariff Oversight Committee]. That sounds like a really effective to ol for education people about the importance of the Florida citrus industry. So could you tell me more about how it came together? Griffin: Well, it came together as a mother of necessity. [laughs] Relative to the recent trade negotiations that were pe nding some two or three years ago. It was recognized that we didnt have an official group in our industry that could speak for it. [Any existing groups] could be accused of being slanted [in favor] of fresh [oranges] or processed [orange juice concentra te], or slanted as to regulatory, or what have you. So Mutual took the lead and formed an ad hoc committee, if you will, and gosh I think it must be made up of some, maybe fifteen seventeen people. [They come from] the Florida Citrus Commission, Florida Ci trus Mutual, people involved in the industry from the investment standpoint, such as your larger growers and producers. I guess that was one hat I was wearing there Im the past chairman of the Florida Citrus Commission. That had some impact as to who migh t be on the committee. Its not a group that is regulated under the state of Florida. It is not a group that is formed out of the Florida Citrus Commission, then, [as such] it becomes a political risk as to who represents what, how many acres they have to have. We put it in as an ad hoc committee and it is recognized, by the [industry] leaders and those who should be informed, as being able to represent what is good for the citrus industry. So I would suggest you should talk with Andy [LaVigne], the executi ve director Have you talked to LaVigne yet? Mansfield: I m talking to him on Friday. [See Andy LaVignes interview with Bill Mansfield, 5 13 05.]
9 Griffin: Good T alk with Andy LaVigne, of Florida Citrus Mutual and he can give you more of those details. Mansfield: O kay, so do you recollect who took the leadership in putting this group together? Is there anybody that stands out to you as Griffin: Mutual was b ecause Mutual came the closest to representing the entire industry. They have some twelve to fifteen thousa nds growers. They have a significant operating budget. Theyve been in business for sixty or seventy years. They have been on the world scene, more so than any of our other organizations; more so than the Florida Citrus Commission. They were able to take t he as, their banner called for, Whats good for the grower is good for Mutual. So they were pretty much the white knight and recognized as the most appropriate leader to put this group together. Mansfield: Can you recall any of the people well I know yo u can, but would you be comfortable sharing the names of some of the other people who were on the committee? Griffin: Id rather you just get that whole list from Andy. Mansfield: Okay. Well, you talked about meeting with your representatives in Washingt on, tell me about that. Which ones in particular have you worked with? Griffin: Well, you go [to] the chairman of the agricultural committee would be the one of the strongest. Then we tried to align ourselves with some agricultural based congressmen, that although they wouldnt have any particular understanding of the Florida citrus industry, theyd have an understanding of farming itself. Whether its growing corn or growing citrus, they have a constituency that they represent that can identify with what were talking, you know? Cause youve got to have rain, you got to have fertilizer, you got to have a market [chuckles]. You got to have vertical integration that carries the
10 product all the way from the trees, all the way through to your consumer. This is one of the things that Brazil does not have. It has the citrus production in Brazil, it has recently say in the last five years captured some 50% of the actual processing capabilities in the state of Florida. As yet, they have not moved into a consumer tie in [with] a given branded product, such as Tropicana, such as Minute Maid, such as Floridas Natural. I sometimes wonder that, if we were to lose the tariff, they would become much more aggressive as to taking a banded product [into their control]. Cause if they take a banded product in now, then that would surely be a greater rallying point for protecting the balance of the industry. Because [the Brazilians] are not known for the grower [financial] survival, they are known for the processor [financ ial] survival. Mansfield: What, Brazil is known for keeping the processors surviving? Griffin: Yes! They are not interested in making returns to growers that are [an] economic positive factor. Theyre wanting to get [orange juice concentrate] as cheaply as possible and that does not fair well for the Florida citrus [growers future]. If we were to lose our tariff, with out question, the economists that have studied the relationships, indicate that Florida [citrus] would not be able to survive. Our citru s industry, as it is known today, would no longer exist. Mansfield: Thatd be a big loss for Florida. Griffin: As the number two economic contributor to the state of Florida, yes. As you well know, [the citrus industry] is only second to tourism. And wh en 9/11 came upon us we were number one, until the American people decided we could travel a little bit; then we became number two again.
11 Mansfield: When you meet with the chairman of the agriculture committee and congressional representatives and senator s, who are from agricultural states, what do you tell them to educate them about the situation of Floridas citrus industry? Griffin: Basically we inform them of the existence like many of the youth of today, they go to the grocery store and find a packag e of bacon, they think you get bacon out of the grocery store. They dont [think about] getting [products] from the farm. So we inform [the congressmen] as to the importance of Florida citrus. We let them know that Florida citrus is [ranked] number two [as an] economic industry in the state of Florida. Very, very few people know that. Just like they dont realize the impact that the Florida cattle industry has on the state of Florida. Maybe you do, but [Florida is] about number six in the nation on the cat tle business, yet how many people in the nation appreciate that? They think wed be number five hundred. Theyre not many cattle running up and down the beaches. [laughs] [Florida is the number one cattle producer east of the Mississippi.] Mansfield: Yeah people dont often associate Florida with cowboys. Griffin: But were here to talk about citrus B ut, I just mention that as an indication as to [how little people know about Floridas agriculture]. But if you have no reason for knowing, there is nothing wrong not knowing that, so its our business to inform them, to let them know what it is. And let them know of the importance of the citrus industry, not only to Florida but to the nation and our exports to foreign lands. And give them a sense of understa nding that these tariff laws are in a position where by an entire industry can be lost. Its happened [in] other places [and other states]. Youre from [North] Carolina, and can well appreciate whats happening to the [textile] industry. Mansfield: The textile industry has really taken a big hit in North Carolina.
12 Griffin: They are basically if they are not gone they are on their way out. We dont think they would want another industry on the way out. I think that there is something that is going on in our world politics today that is helping us. This is out souring Our country has been doing a lot of out souring and trying to make people understand how that is good for them. And they are finding out that it is not good for them, from an economic ben efit to our country. I think that may bode well, relative to maintaining an important tariff, such as citrus. Mansfield: I just want to make sure I understand you. That people are starting to understand that outsourcing is not necessarily the best Gr iffin: the United States. In a fashion, if you do away with the tariff, relative to Brazil, then were outsourcing our citrus products [from] Brazil. We try to explain to them the importance of quality. Brazilian products cannot hold a candle to Florida s quality. The only way that they are able to do that now is through blending [their juice with Florida juice]. Why do they blend? Im not going to say that their quality is inferior (it is inferior) but it is less than the quality that we can produce f rom natures standpoint. They will never be able to [produce] our quality. One of the reasons that they have been successful is that they dont have any freezes. In the state of Florida, we do. Were sub tropical, however thats one of our secrets to the great quality that we have. That is, our citrus trees go dormant in the wintertime. Probably, November to February. So we go dormant and when the spring comes boom! We come out with a nice flush, all over, virtually [all our trees] at the same time, and everybodys in bloom, and there we have a uniform bloom. We have a uniform crop that were taking care of, all year long, until its harvested. And when [they are] harvested theyre basically all of the same quality [and maturity] when they are taken from the tree. Brazil doesnt have that opportunity because they cant go dormant. Its too warm. So what makes Brazil bloom, [then,] is rain. So, they get a rain today. A couple of inches and theyll bloom in several weeks. And two months from now, theyll get another nice rain and [their orange trees will] bloom again. So it is not unusual for Brazil
13 to be carrying six or eight different stages of maturity of fruit, on the tree at the same time. They only harvest it [at] one time, so when it comes time to h arvest [they get a range of oranges.] They leave some because theyre too small (when they are the size of marbles they dont have any juice in them). But they get the oranges that are close to maturity. Then they get [the oranges] that we call senile its over mature. And when they bring it in they are processing that [wide range of oranges]. Youve got about three or four different blooms that youre trying to make the best quality out of and it just cant happen. That is an inherent [maturity] problem. And our inherent benefit is that we have this sub tropical area where our quality is far superior to anywhere else in the world. So if we loose that there will be no blending opportunities. Theyll say, Well take the tariff off and still blend the Fl orida [juice] with the Brazil. Well, that sounds good, but there wont be any Florida [juice] because the Florida production will be going down. We cant survive the cost advantages that Brazil has. So well just go into planting houses, I guess. Mansfie ld: Ive heard some people have gone from raising oranges to raising houses. Griffin: Yes. Mansfield: What kind of response have you gotten from the congressional lobbying efforts? Griffin: We have been derelict in recognition of the importance of bein g before our national representatives. We have let just a few little spotty contacts with Washington, maybe out of fear obviously out of lack of understanding and the lack of need [to make our identity known]. [In the past] we didnt have the great need [f or lobbying]. If we had a code or OSHA requirements or something that didnt work with us, wed allow Mutual, or some organization like that to go in and represent the so called, entire industry. On those types of things, it probably was okay. But we hav e found that we need to be there
14 [for] every session [of Congress]. And we need to bring them into Florida and show them the citrus trees, show them the processing plants, show them the packinghouses. Most citizens dont have the opportunity to go into an y manufacturing plants. I dont want anybody in our fresh fruit packinghouse, because there is the potential that someone might get injured and then youre being sued. So thats not [so different from] the rest of the industry. So there are very few people that I take through our fresh fruit packinghouses. Citrus I m trying to think when Citrus World, which is Floridas Natural now, they had their answer to [letting people see their operation]. They produced a film of their processing plant. And then they d bring the tourist in, sit them down and then theyd see the film. I think thats good. I think that [film] informed people. They didnt get to touch it and feel it and smell it, but they could see it; and thats better than nothing. So when we bring o ur senators and representatives down here, obviously we dont adhere to just showing them pictures. We take them into the facilities. We take them into the groves. Its a natural thing that people like to see things grow. Thats just a human need, I guess, appreciating that. We like to see our children grow, see citrus trees grow. Basically [the congressmen] are looking for knowledge; theyre looking for information. And were in a position to have a good story to tell [and what a great Natural product we p roduce in oranges and grapefruit]. We dont have to talk about tobacco. Weve got citrus to sell. And its good for your heart and good for your skin and good for your eyes. Its healthy and so on and so on. So its a story that people want to hear. So it s not a hard sell and doesnt need to be]. But you get somebody that wants to know what youre trying to tell them and thats a heck of a lot better than them tripping along and youre tapping them on the shoulder, saying, Let me talk to you. Let me talk to you. Mansfield: Well, you talk to them about the economic I mean the healthful benefits of orange juice, but what do you tell them about the economic impact; the people that are employed, the jobs that are provided? What do you tell them about that?
15 Griffin: We just tell them the size. You know, we have basically a million acres, somewhere between nine hundred thousand and a million (I always like to round up numbers, if you want to impress somebody. So Id round that up to say a million acres.) We ca n talk to them about the economic size of the industry, some three billion dollars. We can talk to them about the need of labor and providing jobs for the state. Were not really [employing] migrant [labor]. A lot of people think [we hire migrant labor]. W e start picking citrus in September, early October and well pick until the first of July. Thats not typically migrant, like when you go pick apples for six weeks and then go pick something else for two months. So youve got a job source here that starts in [September] and go all the way through [to the end of June]. We have workers, not that great a number, but Im only guessing but 20% of that labor stays on in the summer time to do work within the groves. There are plants that have labor requirements i n the summertime. Youve got to get those plants ready to go again for another season. So there is an ongoing requirement [for labor] there. Of course your processing plants, they are processing the finished product twelve months out of the year. Theyre p rocessing raw products [ oranges and grapefruits,] from November through til some time in mid July. Mansfield: Can you think of the names of any congressmen, or senators that youve contacted? It would be important to have that for the historical record Griffin: Im sure that Andy [LaVigne] can give you a good list of that. They seem to believe it to be tremendously important. [laughs] We tend to know that there is going to be a different one. We have to work with our own congressmen, from the state of Florida. We can not assume that a congressman from Panama City [in the Florida panhandle] knows anything about citrus any more than [a congressman for Massachusetts would know about citrus]. So we cant over look our own delegation. We have found, fo r various reasons, (its all political) that a given congress man could stand aside and say, Thats not really in my district. That doesnt carry the same mantel as saying, Hey, Im a congressman [from] Florida and I represent all of Florida. Not just that [district] where he is voted for. But most do, most do [and thats sad].
16 This [personal contact] is an effort that a professional lobbyist cant touch. A professional lobbyist cant touch me going in to the Chairman of the Agricultural Committee, or the House of Representatives, to represent my industry, when all he knows is what hes been told. I know things Ive spent a lifetime trying to teach him, but hed never get it. Its not that hes not smart, but you know, you learn things through osmosis that you dont get out of the book. Heres four books that I want you to read [about the Florida Citrus industry.] Wonderful! But let me mention some things. I know freezes like I know my children. I know when they came, the day of the month when they occurred Of course in the 80s they came so fast it got difficult to keep up with them at that point. For instance take the hurricanes. People not in agriculture didnt realize that we had two hurricanes hitting the state of Florida with in the same twenty four h our period. [Hurricane] Charlie was over Fort Myers and [Hurricane] Bonnie was over northwest Florida, within the same twenty four period! Down here, we can remember Charlie, but we could care less about Bonnie. But from an agricultural standpoint we sai d, Damn! We couldve had Charlie and Bonnie hitting the industry at the same time! Of course it goes on and on with the other hurricanes. Mansfield: Youre right, living it is a whole lot different from reading about it. Griffin: Sure. Mansfield: You ve talked about working with congress, to educate them about the needs of the Florida citrus industry; who do you perceive as your adversaries in this effort? Who are the people lobbying in the other direction? Griffin: Theyre not lobbying in a different direction. Theyre lobbying from a philosophical viewpoint that, in my opinion, says free trade is where we ought to be.
17 Theyre lobbying from their world stage. They are here or there and they say that the United States has got this tariff or that tar iff. They too have their tariffs and were over there trying to beat them down and get them to remove their tariffs. [End Tape 1, Side A. Begin Tape 1, Side B.] Griffin: And the y re setting over here in some high rise in New York City, saying Yeah, citrus is alright. Take citrus out of the way. It doesnt impact any of my constituency. But dont touch the fur trade, because Ive got a lot of fur retailers and manufactures here, that Im protecting. But you go right to the president, hes for free trade. Hi s father was for free trade. Clinton was for free trade! The whole damn bunch is for free trade. But youve heard it time and time again, you got to be fair. You got to be fair. [Free trade, but fair! I havent seen it work yet, and dont expect to ] We had Canada, the United States and Mexico went through this, what, ten twelve years ago? [Were going to have] free trade with those three countries? There were protections there. The Lake Okeechobee area of lettuce, tomatoes and etc, have been known for d ecades, as the winter breadbasket [sic; garden] of the United States. Its not there any more. Tens of thousands of acres that were producing lettuce, tomatoes, cabbage, or what ever, has all been converted now to sugar cane. US Sugar had one of the large st packinghouses down there for produce. Now, I dont know much about produce, but its an empty building today. Belle Glade, heavy labor, all of those jobs are lost now. The state and the federal government are buying jobs to put into the Belle Glade ar ea to help those poor people who dont have a job any more. They put in prisons so they can hire guards. You know, they are doing any number of things. Theyre putting four lane highways through there, hoping that some kind of trade will develop. There is a little bit of the tomato industry thats left, over around Naples. But its now nothing more than speculative crops of row crops thats down there.
18 Fair trade! And we were promised it. Thank God the citrus industry didnt get caught up in it. If so, Me xico would probably have five hundred thousand acres of citrus over there. They dont and its [to the benefit of the US consumers] So we got to fight for fair trade. And getting back of US consumers on a philosophical basis, if its fair Florida citrus will be able to compete with Mexico and Brazil. It will be fair and everybody will benefit. But it doesnt work that way, when youve got to wait one hundred years for the Mexicans to build up an economic base that they can buy as many of the finished be ef stakes that we could ship into [Mexico] as they ship [here] on the hoof cattle into the United States. Right now they are shipping the world out of Mexican beef to the United States to be fed, slaughtered and put on your table. But theres not a reci procal. The finished boxed beef isnt going back to Mexico. They cant afford it. The economic balance is just not there. Presumably, one day it will be there. But I dont know if anybody in the cattle business today will be around. [the same goes for Fl orida citrus VS Brazil. Florida citrus wont be here if we loose the tariff.] Mansfield: Thats one of the things about globalization, it seems to be unbalancing everything and nobody is certain where it will [stop]. Griffin: The tariff is fair now. The tariff is fair because we know that the Brazilians, economically, are doing Okay. Theyve continued to plant [orange] groves. So I guess it would take an economist to figure out exactly where they are, but Brazil has survived [with a tariff] now for [fift y] years in the citrus business. Florida has been able to function, with a tariff. Weve had to watch Brazil, to make sure that theyve not been involved with any dumping. You know illegal trade tactics that hurt us. But they were found [dumping cheap ora nge juice] and now were looking at them again. Its nothing more than [a slap on their wrists] and [they say] they wont do it any more. Thats okay. Thats good. That will slow them down. And make [other people] be careful about their trade practices. [pause]
19 I was just trying to think of anything that I didnt [talk about]. We talked about infrastructures a little bit? Thats one of the things that is a really big problem so far as Central America is concerned. The Brazilians are past that. They ha ve an economic level that provides for the infrastructure thats there. And, with their ships theyve even got the conveyance. I dont know what they are, but I have been told, that their government has been a tremendous economic assistance to the growers down there [and] to the processors, in allowing them tax advantages; to help build their industry, which their country needs. [We dont get such government help. Our government ends up costing our citrus industry.] I tell people that Im just tickled to d eath that Brazil doesnt have any oil; cause if they had oil, the Florida citrus industry would have been traded away years ago. [laughs] To get Brazilian oil, thered be no tariff on citrus. That would have been a hard sell for us to try and to maintain Mansfield: That would have been tough. But you talked about how this ad hoc organization is sort of, I dont know how to put it, but it sounds like it is echoing and reinforcing what Florida Citrus Mutual is doing. Am I correct in assuming that? Griffi n: Yes, but there is if that committee was not in place there would be those that would not support Mutual, if they were doing it on their own. There is human nature, where one organization maybe jealous of another. So by having this group that is not a part of Florida Citrus Mutual, then it can have the support of all the other grower organizations. They can say: Hey thats not Mutual. Weve got two men for our deal over here, and nobody is telling them what to do, so we can support this committee where we might not be able to support Mutual. Mutual has twenty damned directors. Now deliver me from a little organization thats got twenty directors! I dont want a big organization [with] twenty directors. Half of them are not even going to listen to what youre saying when youre addressing them. If youve got twenty [theyd] be talking or winking at one another, or something. So there are those who would not be supportive if it was just Mutual.
20 Mansfield: I have heard some people say that they feel Mutu al has not been as effective as it could be in representing the Florida grower. Griffin: On this subject, it might be a case in point in that they didnt want to support Mutual, to do it. We had to secure funding [on this committee] to fund the lobbyist efforts, etc. None of these members over here get paid anything. They couldnt get [the money] out of the Florida Citrus Commission [sic; the Florida Department of Citrus], thats a state agency. They couldnt get it out of Mutual because they were fearfu l of paying, and [not being] a member of Mutual. They dont like the idea of paying Mutual some money, to then dribble back into this committee, unless it was totally separate and apart. [Thus the ad hoc committee stood on its own.] So its [I didnt] thin k too much about it. We just know its the best way to do it. It keeps as much unity with in the industry. Thats not to say there isnt disagreement or differences of opinions that are on this committee. Theres plenty of them. Everyone is supportive of being in Washington. There are those, from whatever viewpoint they are looking at, think the job can be done for half the price. There are others that will say Sign a blank check, we cant afford to loose it. So if we win, like were doing, maybe were was ting some money. But if we lose there is no going back, saying I want to put some more money into the lobbying effort. [By then its be too late.] Its gone. [We must err on the high side of winning VS saving money and loosing.] Mansfield: So youre try ing to insure Griffin: Were trying to put sufficient [effort and funds] in Washington to maintain our tariff and obviously there [must] be a judgement call in there, even I have some questions sometimes. Is that necessary? [I ask]. Maybe someone else k nows better than I, that its necessary. [You must ask the question and then pay the price.] Mansfield: What would be some of the questions that you have?
21 Griffin: Well, you know once a given vote [is] taken, and we were successful [up to that date], do we just shut off the funding for any additional [efforts] until we find a need, or do we drop down to a maintenance level and go at 25%? (To maintain a presence there.) None of our [committee] people are professional lobbyist. Were not there everyday. W e dont want to be there everyday, but we need somebody there everyday. There can be the bell ringer that says I dont like what Im hearing. I dont like what Im seeing. Lets have a meeting and throw it out on the table and see what other people say. B ut thats all politics. [laughs] Its like I heard on advertising one time. When youre advertising a given product, half of that advertising money does a wonderful job and the other half doesnt do a darned thing, but you dont know which half is which. [ laughs] So, which of these dollars [do you want to spend and what half do you cut out]? Its not fun to get on a plane with five or six people and fly to Washington and spend two days tromping up and down the halls and trying to talk to people that may or may not be interested in what youre talking about. But you must do it. Mansfield: Ive often heard that politicians will look at you and tell you exactly what you want to hear and then go and do exactly what they want to do. What kind of distinction do you make? How do you deal with that, where they say one thing and then do something else? Griffin: You pull in all the resources that you possibly can, as to where Senator So & So is standing. You find out how he speaks in a given committee. Who his Th ey are [politicians] are professional in what they are doing and sometimes they are very good at not allowing someone to know exactly how they are going to vote. But when youre talking about something thats [been] out there six or eight months, you can g et a pretty good read on [how they stand, and you keep looking them in the eye!] You can extend an invitation for them to come down to the industry, spend a day, spend two days. If theyre really interested they will probably come, if their schedule allows it. If theyre not interested then you can read them as how many excuses they can
22 think up. Some of them are informed to the point that they dont need to come down here. But its not a junket. Theyre not going to Europe or Pairs, when you come into Flor ida and stop by Florida Citrus Mutual in Lakeland and see the Citrus Commission building. We dont have the glorious beaches and all, over here in the central part of the state. Which is where the industry is. But they are generally interested and they wan t to be informed and they know that if they are able to support you, they will be contacting you at some point in time, to see if you have an interest in supporting them. Mansfield: Earlier you said that you all were effective in talking to the White Hous e because it was an election year and President Bush needed Florida to carry the election. How does the fact that his brother is the governor of the state how do you all use that [connection]? Griffin: The same way. [Though,] it was fine that Jeb was gove rnor. We lobbied him as well. Didnt have to sell him. He knew how important the citrus industry was. After all, this is his second term as governor. So when he first ran he didnt know. He was fresh out of Miami and Texas. But hes been educated and knowl edgeable and [learned well]. John Kerry was the same way. Had Kerry been the successful candidate, we had sufficient support on his side. We couldnt afford to be just on Bushs side. We had a commitment from Kerry that he was going to protect the citrus industry, if he were elected. The industry believed Bush, they didnt believe Kerry. [laughs] Not that he wouldnt have, but most of the citrus industry in the state of Florida was supporting Bush. But Im convinced that Kerry would have been just as suppo rtive of maintaining the tariff as Bush. Mansfield: Tell me what kind of job you think the Florida Department of Citrus is doing? Griffin: I think theyre doing fine! Were living in troubled times. The industry is known for its combative nature when tim es get tough. Generally, when times get tough, thats
23 the best time to get something accomplished, verse s [times] of higher fruit returns. Thats when they get pretty independent in their thinking as to what they might want to do. I think the Commission is doing a fine job. I dont think we could have a better executive director than Dan Gunter [see Dan Gunters interview with Bill Mansfield, 4 12 05]. He is the right man at the right place. When I was chairman, Dan was the economist, from the University of Flo rida, that was with the Department. So hes had a tremendous number of years of experience. He was there before, and now hes back [as the executive director]. [pause] This industry could have been better served by better commissioners, for the last tem y ears. Thats not to say that they werent qualified, but I felt like we were hampered by a lack of leadership. [I shouldnt say we didnt have any leadership] but the leadership was not] as strong as it could have been. It led us into a position where som e sort of loose committee makes a decision and you dont know where they might be wobbling, at that given time, verses having some stated thought out direction as to what would be best for the industry. Not by just one person, but by several. And with tho se several, then you join forces as to what the best decision is. You may be left, right [or] center, but when it all falls together, maybe youre just a little left of the center. Or a little bit right of center, but you [get the point, you hit the target .] For instance, our current advertising, the Commission [sic; Department of Citrus] [selected] our current advertising agency. And they have been making recommendations to the Commission, as to the ads to run. The Commission has not altered, in any way, any of the commercials that have been presented. They didnt say they wanted more color, less color, a little bit this way, a little bit that way. Not that theyre advertising exerts but they are consumers. They should have an opinion. They sit there and t hey ask questions. And [how] do they vote? I move to support the advertising agency [suggestions]. Well I second that. Thats why we hired them. Theyre the experts. [We shouldnt change anything.] I dont buy that.
24 Theyre the experts and if they recom mended that, well go with them. Well measure them two or three years down the road and see what kind of job they are doing. If theyre dont measure up were going to get rid of them. Well in two or three years you could be dead. So [these men on the co mmission are supposed to be leaders, executive decision makers.] Mansfield : So you feel lie its just too slow to respond? Griffin: I think they are too slow to respond. I think they are lacking in stronger opinions as to what needs to be done and to tak e action. We been raising hell over our advertising for several years and I think it is nothing other than a simple deal [that] were not directing [the] advertising agency. Were letting the advertising agency present the ads and [we just pick them out,] then were approving them. And theyre coming from an advertising agency in Texas that doesnt know anything about the Florida citrus industry. They dont know anything about citrus to begin with! Maybe they drink orange juice, but theyre in Texas. They hadnt been here before. [Who says they know anything about oranges!] Mansfield: So in terms of the lawsuit against the [Florida Department of Citrus] Griffin: Oh well, thats another screw up [laughs]. Im sorry, youve got me on the wrong subject tod ay. But the Florida Citrus Commission [sic; Florida Department of Citrus] is the most unique governmental, industrial organization in the United States of America. Nobody else has got it. We are a department of the state of Florida, just like the [highway ] department is, the corrections department, whatever. And we are fully independently taxed by the growers. We dont get any money from the state. All other agencies have got to get general revenue monies. So the Commission was set up back in the thirties and the main thing that they are doing theyre doing regulation, theyre doing research, but the main thing theyre doing is advertising. And they are doing it for the Florida citrus grower. We have had some wonderful advertising. We had some advertising t hat wasnt
25 so wonderful. Anita Bryant, everyone knows that was just a fabulous deal while it lasted. And then weve been on some others that kind of did the job. A day with out orange juice is a day with out sunshine. That was a big one. That was very su ccessful. But you cant hit a home run every time. So now we come to the point where there is a group of growers, six I think it is, and they say they dont want to pay any [box] taxes. And that is the most ridiculous thing Ive ever heard in my life. Bec ause we are self taxed. Were self administered, to secure advertising and promotion thats going to benefit the Florida citrus grower. There is nothing else in this industry that is going to do anything for the entire Florida citrus grower. Florida Natu ral, they are a fine company. Ive put a lot of fruit in there. And they advertise. Theyre advertising is what benefits their brand and their growers and thats fine. But we dont have any advertisements, anywhere that benefits [all the growers], unless i t comes from the Florida Citrus Commission. If we lose that, the grower wont have to pay that eighteen cents a box tax, but that eighteen cents is not going into his pocket. The processor, give him a little bit of time, competition will make him lower [pr ices] to where that eighteen cents is gone no longer in the growers pocket. And we wont have anybody that can carry the message, of the Florida citrus industry [as well as the Department of Florida Citrus]. [Tape interruption to change discs] Mansfiel d: But you were telling me about the benefits of the Department of Florida Citruss advertising? Griffin: Yes. Mansfield: What I hear you saying is that you think the Department of Citrus does a good job and youre opposed to or you dont agree with th is lawsuit?
26 Griffin: I do not agree with the lawsuit. You have twelve growers that are sitting up there that are members of the Florida Citrus Commission. The industry can come in on an individual basis, myself, or a group Florida Citrus Mutual for insta nce and make proposals. Then [the Department of Citrus] can look at [the suggestion] and decide if they are going to take action or not. The advertising is so crucial to us, as growers [we can take our message to the consumers and not depend on others.] Advertising is the only means available to the grower. Brazil now owns half of the processing plants and will not spend money to protect the Florida grower.] Our advertising budget, even if were in the range of sixty million dollars, you and I know that s ixty million dollars, over the entire country for a twelve month period of time, thats not enough. Thats not [a big] impact on those youre trying to bring the message to; [but it is necessary.] The Commission could make [a] regulations to insure, to the consumer, that when it said 100% Florida, it was 100% Florida [juice]. And we cold advertise to tell them; [If you want the best,] buy this product because its 100% Florida. If you want food safety, this is the product to [buy]. It scares me to death, relative to foreign imports [and domestic products], that food safety could be another message to our consumers]. We could have ruination problem in the citrus industry, because of food safety. [It could take years to recover.] Mansfield: Well, Ill ask o ne more question and then Ill turn you loose. What do you see as the future for the Florida citrus industry? Griffin: I see the future of the Florida citrus industry as being one of quality. I think quality is our anchor for the future. That may be thro ugh an entirely new brand, [a new orange juice brand]. Its not unlike the angus beef. You know everybody wants angus beef. You go to the grocery store and everything says angus, angus, angus. And theres not a durn thing different between angus beef and hertford beef. But its the advertising and the [high] quality control. So I think thats where its going to be, [ quality !].
27 [Another thing] I think that we need to be very, very concerned about this [box tax] lawsuit on doing a way with the Commission, or greatly hampering the Commission. The Commission needs to be strengthened, not weakened [to insure our future]. I think that through quality, the industry is going to be healthy. The industry is going to be healthy as long as we maintain the tariff. Bu t if we cant hold the tariff, or we start losing the tariff bit by bit (which is nothing more than slow death). The grower will turn from asking What can I do to enhance production, what can I do to enhance my quality, etc. to [asking] What can I do to p repare my land for housing developments. And then there will be pavement and environmental concerns like weve never seen before. Because, the huge amount of land, where Florida citrus is now grown, is just sandy soil that is not good for growing any thi ng else [other than growing oranges, relative to agriculture, but its also great for building houses]. Mansfield: You think there will be a contraction of growers? Will some of the small growers be able to continue? Griffin: Ive heard about the small grower for a long, long time. Im sure there will be some contraction. But, there is another element thats out there, my company has a number of small growers, that joined our company, gosh, years ago. They are just as economically viable to stay in the c itrus industry as I am. Were doing the job for them. Weve got the staff to do all of the permitting and OSHA requirements and the regulations that you have [to adhere to]. So I guess Im a little bit hesitant to say that the small grower is no longer [vi able]. [Its] a popular thing to say Aw, the small growers dead. Well. I heard that twenty, thirty years ago and hes still alive. Sure, but there some big growers that are not here any more too. So its going to be more difficult for a small grower to manage his own affairs and stay in the citrus industry. He is going to be encouraged to seek some type of an organization where he [can be assisted.] He can not be an expert in all the areas he has to today. Weve got personnel here and all they do is per mitting work, OSHA work [and government regulations].
28 I too have a small grove, personally, that my company takes care of. Thank goodness because I dont have the expertise to go through all the permitting [either]. I dont have the expertise the time or t he interest to go to all of these government officials to carry out the requirements that are [required]. [However,] being a member of this [citrus] organization [simplifies those responsibilities]. Haines City Citrus Growers is another [organization]. Alc oma used be [a good organization] until they sold out to the Brazilians. Holly Hill is another. There are quite a number of organizations that may have larger [growers] but also have smaller some growers involved with them [that level out the differences b etween a large grower and a small grower]. Mansfield: Okay. Is there anything you want to tell me about that I havent asked about? Griffin: Well, I wish you had stared with the Citrus Commission first. [laughs] In some aspect, Im more concerned about t hat than I am the tariff and Im really concerned about the tariff. Governmental involvement hasnt had any thing to do with the Citrus Commissions [problems]; thats something that the industry is doing to itself. Mansfield: Well that sounds like a goo d place to stop. And again, let me thank you for taking the time to talk with me. Well transcribe the interview and send you a copy for you to check for errors and such. But also I need to ask you to sign this release from. Griffin: Are you going to pu blish a book and make millions? Mansfield: No. This [release form] lets researchers know that we have your permission to use the information in this interview. [Sounds of release form being signed]. Oh, sorry, I for got [to include] the third.
29 Griffin : Theres a [Ben H ill Griffin] IV is the reason I [called that to your attention]. [Sign] here? Mansfield: Yes sir, right there. [sound of signing] Thanks, Ill send you a copy of this interview and you can check it for errors. Send it back to us with any corrections. Griffin: Well, I dont normally participate [in interviews like this]. [End of interview]
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Griffin, Ben Hill.
Ben Hill Griffin
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by William Mansfield.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (87 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (digital, PDF file)
Florida citrus oral history project
The interview focuses on the efforts of the Citrus Tariff Oversight Committee (CTOC) and lobbying efforts during the 2004 Presidential election with Bush and Kerry. Griffin discusses the 1980 take over of the sectionizing trade by Israel. Griffin is one of the largest growers in Florida.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Interview conducted May 9, 2005, in Frostproof, Fla.
Griffin, Ben Hill.
Citrus fruit industry
Florida Citrus Mutual.
Florida Citrus Commission.
Dept. of Citrus.
Tariff on oranges.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Florida Studies Center.
Oral History Program.
University of South Florida.
University of South Florida.
Globalization Research Center.
y USF ONLINE ACCESS