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Ron Hamel


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Ron Hamel
Series Title:
Florida citrus oral history project
Physical Description:
1 sound file (69 min.) : digital, MPEG4 file + ;
Hamel, Ron
Mansfield, Bill
University of South Florida Libraries -- Florida Studies Center. -- Oral History Program
University of South Florida -- Tampa Library
University of South Florida -- Globalization Research Center
University of South Florida Tampa Library
Place of Publication:
Tampa, Fla
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Free trade -- Florida   ( lcsh )
Citrus fruit industry -- Florida   ( lcsh )
Tariff on oranges   ( lcsh )
Citrus fruit industry -- Societies, etc   ( lcsh )
Oral history   ( local )
Online audio   ( local )
Oral history.   ( local )
Online audio.   ( local )
interview   ( marcgt )


The interview focuses on the formation of the Gulf Citrus Growers and its public relations and lobbying efforts. Hamel discusses land use issues, water use, canker eradication, mechanical harvesting, and free trade legislation.
Interview conducted June 6, 2005, in LaBelle, Fla.
System Details:
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Statement of Responsibility:
interviewed by William Mansfield.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of South Florida Library
Holding Location:
University of South Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
aleph - 024871224
oclc - 64026783
usfldc doi - C56-00009
usfldc handle - c56.9
System ID:

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C O P Y R I G H T N O T I C E T h i s O r a l H i s t o r y i s c o p y r i g h t e d b y t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a L i b r a r i e s O r a l H i s t o r y P r o g r a m o n b e h a l f o f t h e B o a r d o f T r u s t e e s o f t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a C o p y r i g h t 2 0 0 7 U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a A l l r i g h t s r e s e r v e d T h i s o r a l h i s t o r y m a y b e u s e d f o r r e s e a r c h i n s t r u c t i o n a n d p r i v a t e s t u d y u n d e r t h e p r o v i s i o n s o f t h e F a i r U s e F a i r U s e i s a p r o v i s i o n o f t h e U n i t e d S t a t e s C o p y r i g h t L a w ( U n i t e d S t a t e s C o d e T i t l e 1 7 s e c t i o n 1 0 7 ) w h i c h a l l o w s l i m i t e d u s e o f c o p y r i g h t e d m a t e r i a l s u n d e r c e r t a i n c o n d i t i o n s F a i r U s e l i m i t s t h e a m o u n t o f m a t e r i a l t h a t m a y b e u s e d F o r a l l o t h e r p e r m i s s i o n s a n d r e q u e s t s c o n t a c t t h e U N I V E R S I T Y O F S O U T H F L O R I D A L I B R A R I E S O R A L H I S T O R Y P R O G R A M a t t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a 4 2 0 2 E F o w l e r A v e n u e L I B 1 2 2 T a m p a F L 3 3 6 2 0


Citrus Oral History Project Globalization Research Center University of South Florida Interview with: Ron Hamel Interviewed by: William Mansfield Location: La Belle, Florida Date: June 16, 2005 Transcribed by: Wm. Mansfield Edited by: Ron Hamel & Wm Mansfield [Tape 1, Side A.] Bill Mansfield: I always but a label on the disc by saying, This is Bill Mansfield from the University of South Floridas Globalization Research Center talking with Mr. Ron Hamel, June 15, 2005 in the offices of Gulf Coast C itrus Growers Association in La Belle, Florida. Ron Hamel: No coast. Mansfield: No coast? Hamel: Gulf Citrus Growers Association. Mansfield: Oh Gulf Citrus Growers Association, okay. Is there a Gulf Coast Citrus Grower ? Hamel: [Shakes his head, no. ] There is a company called Gulf Coast Citrus. Mansfield: But this is just Gulf Citrus Growers Association? Hamel: [Nods his head, yes.]


2 Mansfield: Good. Im glad you set me straight on that. But we always get people to start out by having them state their name and telling when they were born and where they were born. So let her go. Hamel: Okay. Im Ron Hamel with Gulf Citrus Growers Association, executive vice president. I was actually born in Webster, Massachusetts. My Dad was in the Navy and we ba sically traveled all over the US. [We] lived in the west and the east and the north and the south. [From] New England we worked our way down the cost, Virginia, Georgia and then Florida. Mansfield: Okay. And if you dont mind, what was your date of birth? Hamel: July 7, 1945. Mansfield: Okay, tell me about you educational background. Hamel: [Starting off, I] went high school, got out and went to a school called Lake City Forest Ranger School. I thought I was going to be a forester. Then I went from the re to Orlando Junior College and was in pre forestry and transferred to the University of Florida in pre forestry and got [overly challenged with] the advanced chemistries and physics. I did real well in the forestry and the practical courses and then so me of the sciences tripped me up. So I went to business school and then over to journalism and PR [public relations]. And I actually majored in journalism and public relations with a minor in forestry. I was planning to go to work in forestry, either bus iness, a forestry company (like International Paper or St. Regis) or even the US Forest Service. But got twisted around and ended up working for the milk guys, the dairy industry, for many years. So my first real career type of job was with the dairy ind ustry as PR director. Then national vice president for public affairs with the National Dairy Board.


3 That was up in Washington Arlington, Virginia actually. [After about four years] I wanted to come back to Florida. [So I searched for employment and was] hired me to start the [Gulf] Citrus Growers Association. So, Ive been here since [May] 1988. Im the initial and only executive director of this trade association, representing the citrus growers in these five counties of southwest Florida, which is about 25% of Floridas citrus industry. Mansfield: You said forest ranger school in Lake City, Florida? Hamel: Yes, and then the University of Florida. Mansfield: Well, I was going to ask you how you got connected with citrus, but youve answered that questi on for me. So you came down here to help organize the Gulf Citrus [Growers] Association? Hamel: Right. Mansfield: Tell, tell me about that. How did it get started? Hamel: Well, a few of the growers in this region uh let me start back a little bit. The citrus industry of Florida has been around many, many years. In the late 70s and 80s there were a series of freezes. The [severe freezes] were pretty much north of Route 60, which is considered the north south line. At that time a lot of the central Florida companies were hit pretty hard and these series of freezes had growers looking around to where they might go. There were a few pioneer growers that had moved down this way. And the combination of the weather and improved technology, to manage the w ater here manage the water table. Cause its a wetter part of the state, it doesnt drain as much as other areas. Citrus trees cant get their feet wet. Their roots are very sensitive to [water.] But anyway, some of the pioneers got going and as these fr eezes hit there was a strong impetus to grow citrus in this part of the state. The core group of leaders in the


4 industry here, that had been farming and working for these different citrus companies said, You know, we need to organize because we have a lot of things going on simultaneously. We have rapid growth going on in this part of the state. There is going to be a lot competition for the water resources and land use and a lot of these other issues. We need to get ourselves organized. And then we need t o market our product. At the time, when they were forming, they felt that we grow some of the best grapefruit in the world here. The Indian River had been commanding better prices for their fruit because they had name identity in the market. So these gu ys also anticipated establishing a Gulf Citrus identity in the world market, to enhance the price of fresh fruit, from out of this area, primarily grapefruit. So, me being a kind of PR marketing guy, out of the dairy industry, they were looking for some one to come in and build their image and their product line, so to speak. And develop identity for the region, similar to what the Indian River had been able to do over on the east coast. So those guys got together and structured the organization, back in the mid eighties. [They] pretty much organized as volunteers and then they started getting serious about forming and put together a dues structure, collected some money and said they were going to go find a director, to bring everything together. They sta rted searching. I had heard about it through some contacts here in Florida, because Id put feelers out, saying Hey, if any interesting jobs come up in PR or marketing, or anything with Florida agriculture, Im interested in trying to come back to Florid a. So I got a call about this [position]. I love this part of the state. For years Ive always admired the southwest Florida area, particularly island areas, Captiva and Sanibel. And being a sailor I saw an opportunity to come down and sail in the Gulf an d all of that. But [the area growers] felt that the pressures, on the regulatory side [including] water allocation, land use, wildlife habitat [issues] and all of these issues that were going to [increase] the regulatory side. And they [also] saw the opp ortunity on the market development side. Thats what served as the basis for bringing the growers together, to address their collective needs. Mansfield: Establishing a regional identity?


5 Hamel: Right. Mansfield: But you said it was mostly grapefruit? Hamel: That was one of the prime fresh crops and of course, today, we dont grow that much grapefruit. But at the time, it served as catalyst, to get a better price for the fresh product. That was one of the rallying points, to get the group together. An d that was strong! Initially I would probably spend about a third of my time working on that. Trying to build identity for the region and then the product and working with the different growers and packing houses that actually had that product line. Tourin g VIPs from different countries and host groups. We did a lot of that, in the formative years. Mansfield: How has it changed in that time? How has what you do changed? Hamel: Well, what happened is the grapefruit market itself kind of soured, to use a pu n, to some degree. Mansfield: [laughs] Hamel: The prices, there was a heavy production of grapefruit that depressed world prices. Even though we were trying to market some of the best grapefruit in the world, from this region, the base prices of grapefru it turned out to be so low that the interest to keep grapefruit, or increase the size of that crop [dissipated]. It didnt take long then it on top of that, if youre trying to launch a marketing initiative, you need to put some funding behind it. And as t he fruit prices dropped the willingness to spend funds to promote the product dropped. Therefore the emphasis, as well as the growth in the region and the pressures on water and land use and these things moved very quickly, compared to [how those growers who formed] the organization realized. So the emphasis of the association


6 shifted from the fresh marketing angle to the regulatory angle as well as the community relations/PR. [Our leadership wanted to tell the citrus story] to the county commissioners, legislative leaders and elected officials to build a political base for [the] industry. [So that, in time of need, they would help us.] So, now the majority of our time is invested in dealing with predominant regulatory and government affairs issues as wel l as doing PR/community relations for the growers in the five counties. Actually more in the coastal counties than in the rural because folks in the rural [areas] have a pretty good idea of who the citrus industry is. Verses the folks that are moving here rapidly, to the coast, that need to be informed and educated of how strong a citrus growing region this is. Most people dont have a clue when they move down to this part of the state, how strong an agricultural base is to the east of them, as they move to the west coast. Mansfield: I want to make sure I understand you, but it sounds like the organization went from being primarily a marketing group to really a lobbying lobbyist organization to educate government officials about the needs of the citrus grow ers. Is that correct? Hamel: Well, I dont know that it is that stark a change. We still focus on the marketing of the product, to some degree. And if you factor in the public relations angel as well as the legislative lobbying effort, I think that would be about right. We probably spend now, less than 5% of our time on the fresh deal and the marketing aspect. [We] rely heavily on the Florida Department of Citrus, which is funded through grower taxes. We want to make sure that our message is getting into t he hopper. So I spend time [as] liaison with the Department Citrus and their staff and all that as well. To make sure that the voices of our growers are heard as part of the over all industry. Mansfield: Okay. I want to ask you about getting your message into the hopper. But before I do that, tell me the five counties that you all cover. Hamel: Okay. We cover Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee Counties.


7 Mansfield: Okay. You cover orange growing and grapefruit? Hamel: We cover anything thats co nsidered a citrus product. Mansfield: And since the grapefruit market has kind of dried up, its primarily oranges now? Hamel: Yes. Heavy, Id say probably 90% of the crop here is round oranges for juice. They call them round oranges, verses square orang es. [chuckles] No, thats how they classify [juice oranges] as round oranges. But they grow Hamlins, early varieties as well mid season oranges as well as Valencias. Mansfield: But round oranges is what they term oranges destined for juice? Hamel: Yes. Mansfield: And do they really use the term square oranges, or are you just pulling my leg? Hamel: No, Im pulling your leg. Mansfield: Okay, great. Tell me about how you all get your message into the legislative hopper. Hamel: Well, we do it from any n umber of ways. We maintain regular contacts with our elected officials in this area. We work closely with chambers of commerce and economic development groups. We work with our state colleagues, which we do industry wide. We work with the Florida Departmen t of Citrus. So any number of ways, we participate in different forums and activities that are geared towards informing elected and civic officials about our industry, and those kind of things.


8 Mansfield: Could you site some examples, when you talk about how you inform them? You said that could range from tours of groves to lectures. So Id be interested in knowing the different means you use to keep them informed. Hamel: Were regular members of the Southwest Florida Chamber of Commerce, which also incl udes [our] five counties. Thats one of the ways. They have a government affairs committee and we participate in that. In Lee County there is a very strong political group of civic and business leaders called Horizon Council, which is an advisory board to the County Commission on, primarily business and economic issues. Were participants in that. Were the only agricultural group thats a member of that. These are the different kinds of things Ive enlisted Gulf Citrus as a part of, or a member of, or go tten our growers personally involved with. So were a regular participant at their various meetings and different events. If an issue is important to us, we attempt to get these organizations to support. Also [we] inform the various elected officials that have the authority to deal with some of these things. Mansfield: Could you illustrate that an example? Like an issue that is important to you all and how you dealt with it. Hamel: Yeah. Going back to why youre really here, the trade issue, for example. This is probably the more focused of the efforts. Because the two biggest issues that have hit our industry here, in the last twenty years, have been the citrus canker and then the whole threat on the tariff reduction and the trade issues. Through these personal contacts and regular participation with these groups, weve been able to actually get in and work [with] these organizations, to pass resolutions and send letters in support of protecting our industry. Lets say, the last round on the tariff, the FTAA [Free Trade of the American Area] and some of these other issues, when we launched the tariff protection initiative. We, in the industry, were asked to go out and get with the county officials and other business organizations, to get signatures and p etitions and resolutions, in strong support


9 of our industry by maintaining the tariff as an important part in keeping the industry an economic contributor to the communities. So, on various occasions, either before the Southwest Florida Chamber of Commerce s government affairs group and then the full board, or the Horizon Council board, weve had resolutions and letters of support, advanced on our behalf. Weve worked these in every county, but through the chambers help and through the Horizon Council help we were certainly able to muster up some pretty good political support for our position on the tariff protection initiative. Mansfield: I hate to seem dense, but you say you would get petitions and letters of support before chambers of commerce and coun ty commissioners? Hamel: Yes. And just the board of the Southwest Florida Chamber of Commerce, for example is pretty well recognized in the region as kind of the movers and shakers of the business community. When they come out with a policy or they come o ut with a petition or a resolution, its pretty well distributed throughout the community, primarily focused on the civic and elected officials. So working through those guys and particularly, lets say the Horizon Council, for example, a resolution [was d rafted by] the Horizon Council in Lee County, and then [went] before the board of county commissioners and was passed on our behalf, in support of protecting the tariff. Weve had these in every county. Weve had them in Hendry County, Collier; all of our five counties had passed resolutions in support of our position. And [they were] communicated up the line, to the state elected officials and the federal elected officials, into our senators and the whole nine yards! Ultimately the tariff decision comes do wn to Congress and those decisions are made, either the Congress is going to vote these up or down, through trade promotion authority, which the President has. So Congress can vote, up or down, on these agreements, but they usually have very little authori ty to change these agreements. As I understand it the administrations trade officials, and the administration will draft the trade deals. Thats the whole concept behind the trade promotional authority, they make the deal and Congress will vote it up or d own, they cant modify it.


10 Mansfield: Okay. I just want to make sure I understand you, the Horizon Council and the board of county commissioners, amplify your position and that makes it easier to be heard in Tallahassee and, ultimately heard in Washington? Hamel: When elected officials get letters and copies of resolutions, coming out of a wide group of people it definitely gets their attention, more than if we just did it ourselves. It helps to fortify our message and strengthen the message, by informing the other elected officials that have the authority to make decisions over these kinds of matters, the importance of maintaining that tariff to keep the citrus growers in business. Mansfield: Was it you who developed this strategy? How did you all come up with this plan? Hamel: I think there was a statewide action plan and part of that action plan directed the different groups and organizations, like us (we have several regional groups in the state) to go out and do these things. Now, with that said, the fact then boils down to what kind of relationships had you established in these different areas. So when it came to us, we were the first group in the state to have all five counties in our region to support us, because we had built this net work of suppor t, through our community and governmental relations committees and activities. We were not strangers to our key elected officials and business leaders, when our ox was in the ditch, so to speak. They knew who we were and when we came to the table with t hese issues, after we explained it to them, they were certainly in support of what we were saying. We werent trying to cry wolf on this tariff, so to speak, on this tariff protection. When the reality of it is that Brazil is doing just fine in the marke t place without taking our market and forcing our growers out of business, to create what is interpreted as a monopolistic situation. If you knock Florida out, then Brazil is about the only big citrus group left. Even though they are the number one grower today in total acres and volume. Mansfield: You said there was a state wide action plan, does that come down from Florida Citrus Mutual, or the Florida Department of Citrus? Tell me about that.


11 Hamel: Well, I think it was a combination. A number of meetin gs had been called with industry leaders and organizations, to brainstorm about coming up with a tactical plan. And, as I indicated, at the time the Department of Citrus was politically active and so was the Citrus Mutual. So, collectively, the industry, a combination of the leadership of those groups and the organizational regional groups, kind of like ours, all came to the table to agree that we needed a game plan and everybody needs to be part of it. Then at that point they strategized with some, experi enced Washington insiders that had lobbied and been involved in a lot of big issues. They also became part of developing the game plan for an industry wide effort. All the organizations and the membership of these different groups became involved in it. Ev erybody had a part to play and a roll to fill in this thing, including dealing with media and the local officials and all of that. So thats what I can remember of the evolution of the plan. I think it was kind of a collective effort to put it together, r aise some money, get the Washington, logistical insiders involved. [Then] hire them to help steer the ship and be on the front edge, everyday, day to day, in front of the delegation [in Washington], our Florida delegation as well as the other key leaders w ith in congress and within the trade offices. Mansfield: Well that speaks for the power of organization, doesnt it. Did you participate in any of these strategy meetings? Im trying to imagine what it is like. Hamel: Yes. Mansfield: Tell me what you re collect about that. Hamel: Well, we had a number of them. Initially, I think everybody agreed that this was a big enough issue that we had to have unity in the industry. And, if I recall, we would each bring three to five people to the meetings. Our execu tive committee, or sometimes just the executives, like myself and my president, our government affairs chair. [Wed] talk about, not only the need, but some tactics and how to build you know, support the industry. Its kind of a PR effort as well to get th e farmers, the growers involved.


12 I think we had two or three of these and then the consensus was that we certainly needed more money, more financial a support. Additionally we needed some outside the citrus industry leadership, from people that have wor ked on major issues in front of Congress and the President and those kind of things. So [once] that consensus was reached, the leadership became involved with [the law firm based in Washington, DC.] As part of the [rallying process, our] groups would h ave some of the principals in these [DC based law] firms to come and speak at their meetings, to keep them informed of what was going on and why. At the same time they would tell then how they could get involved in this and be part of the solution, to prot ect the tariff. So, all the way, from the top down to the average grower, out here through this networking and through this leadership and involvement, it [reached the point] to where any grower that wanted to write a letter and get involved certainly had some professional expertise and counsel to make sure that message could be delivered. Mansfield: So when did these meetings start taking place? An approximate date will be okay. Hamel: I think the big tariff stuff started well I mean you got to go back You could start back with NAFTA, but they always say around here, We got the shafta in NAFTA. Mansfield: [laughs] Hamel: We didnt have near the grassroots initiative that we did for this last go a round, because we got stiffed pretty well in NAFTA. [My under standing in there is that] we havent shipped the first orange. And they are shipping product in here. So, obviously from our perspective, we dont have a whole lot to gain in these trade deals. Especially the countries that have been popping on the radar screen. Weve got a lot to loose from letting them have our markets and nothing to market back, which is contrary to what most of the trade people are going to tell us.


13 But I would think this last initiative probably Id have to go back and pul l the dates, but I think it is four or five years old already. Its whenever we really started picking up vibes that they were going after this Free Trade Zone [sic; Area] for the Americans, the FTAA. That seemed to be the rallying call because that [prop osal included] Brazil. And if Brazil was able to eliminate the tariff there was a consensus in the industry that we wont be able to compete, not as we currently exist with regulations and the un level playing field. Primarily labor and harvesting costs, y ou know land use and environmental kind of stuff. This is a daily fight for our people. I mean there is a lot of effort going forward to deal with the labor rules and regs and all of the environmental rules and regulations that our growers have to face e veryday. Mansfield: Were there competing strategic plans? Did people have different ideas about what would be the best way to work this? Was there a struggle to come up with the best one? Hamel: No, cause I think almost anybody that had any significant contributions, there werent any bad ideas. I mean most people advanced creditable, very tactful ideas. [They were] people with direct contacts with a lot of leaders, as well as some of these grassroots initiatives that I was speaking of. From letter writi ng to E mails, to whatever communication methodology you wanted to employ. But I dont know that anybody had any really bad ideas. I think that everybody though that we ought to inform the public, so there was public relations built in. The media, there we re media briefs. Certainly hundreds of elected official briefings. This whole concept of getting county commission petitions and economic development [boards] petitions and chamber [of commerce] resolutions. I think it is probably one of the best executed communications efforts going. They even brought the President down during the hurricanes to make statements to the effect that Were not going to let the industry get beat up, while its down. Some of these pretty strong public commitments to know that the industry is under a lot of stress and we dont want to add any undue stress, such a trade deal that could cripple the growers.


14 Mansfield: From the people Ive interviewed Ive gotten the feeling that there is division between the large growers and th e smaller growers. How did that play itself out in these meetings? Hamel: I dont I guess I dont know if I would classify it as a division. I think I would more classify it as a change of business about there is a change of business acumen, you know, the way that it works. I think we, in this region have more larger growers, on a per capita basis than any other part of the state. Therefore my board is composed of a few small guys, a few middle guys and few large guys. I dont see much of a divisiveness, p er se on my board. Now weve had some of the bigger growers pull out of the organization, feeling that some of these regional groups are not as good an investment as they think they might be. Of course our people feel thats pretty short sighted. But I do nt know, philosophically, [that] on the tariff issue or the canker issue, there [is] a big [difference] between [the way] a little guy looks at it or a big guy looks at it. I think they look at these issues pretty similarly, through the same colored glass es. And those glasses are not very clear nor are they very positive! So I think that had a lot to do with the same thing. We can get around a table and argue over the best way to fund the Florida Department of Citrus advertising [program] and [some] things But, when it comes to issues of the eradication of citrus canker or protection of the tariff, that there is pretty strong unanimity in the industry, both small and large, that will play itself out. Mansfield: I can see how they would both want to keep t he tariff in place, but I just wondered if there would be some different approaches on how to do that? Hamel: I havent experienced that here. But I think everybody agreed on the plan and how to fund the plan. You know, its predicated on volume, so much in fruit and everybody felt that way was fair. Everybody is paying a fair share, if they are paying. Its just like anything else, its a volunteer thing and some people just dont volunteer.


15 Mansfield: What is it I cant think of its exact name, but the Tariff Oversight Hamel: The Citrus Tariff Oversight Committee. Mansfield: Which is separate from Citrus Mutual and the Department of Citrus? Hamel: Right. Mansfield: Tell me about that organization. Hamel: As the initiative started it was felt, in o rder to collect funding, in order to built consensus in the industry and in order to really stay focused on this tariff protection plan, they needed [to assemble] a pretty broad and high powered group of individuals. [People] with a lot of respect in the i ndustry and also a lot of investment in the industry, to become the leadership in the tariff protection initiative. And through Citrus Mutual and at the time, the Department of Citrus, they collaborated and came up with individuals that they felt would re present the industry well and, at the same time, be respected by the growers. Then they put together the Tariff Oversight Committee what ever they call it. The CTOC, Citrus Tariff Oversight Committee. They put together that group And that group was also r esponsible for hiring the um firms the various types of legal firms to work with the industry and come up with a strategy, to focus in on the leadership at the national level to protect the tariff. So each [geographical] part of the state had individuals o n that committee. We had three or four on it, from down here. Mansfield: Would it be safe to say that making [the CTOC] separate from the Citrus Mutual and the Department of Citrus, kind of put it beyond any disagreements that people might have? Hamel: Y es. It definitely produced the political um feeling that it was [not dominated] by any one group.


16 Mansfield: Ive heard some people express some displeasure with Florida Citrus Mutual. What have you heard? Hamel: Well, any organization cant be al thi ngs to all growers. I guess it depends upon your perspective. There are probably the same number of people who would speak very highly of [Mutual]. So from down here, we have a fair amount of growers that are members of Citrus Mutual. We probably have mor e members on a per capita basis, in [Gulf Citrus than] there would be Mutual members. We got a lot of Mutual members that are, quote, mutual members, both in our group and [in Florida Citrus Mutual]. Mansfield: [laughs] Hamel: I think in this particul ar case, that would be short sighted on the growers part, because I think Mutual deserves a lot of credit to take on the responsibility of that tariff protection. Now for years, prior to Andy LaVignes reign there, Bobby McKowan was the executive director there. Bobby had a reputation of being pretty close managed with just having a very few people to provide input and him being the initiator and the leader. He managed communications extremely tight and internal. Where as Andys role has been broader based and more grass roots oriented, to get more people involved and an attempt to build consensus more than Bobby. So some of that frustration towards Mutual could very well be generated through the past leadership there, rather than Andy. I think Andy has done a much better job of coming in and establishing better communications with the organizations and growers and working to build consensus on these issues. Bobby was more take the bull by the horns and were going to do it Bobbys way or no way. You kn ow I m going to take my football and go home. Mansfield: [laughs] Hamel: At times its somewhat frustrated people. So there might be some spin offs over that. But like I said, I would certainly go on record as being very complimentary towards


17 the effo rts of Mutual to involve the leadership and to build consensus, to take the initiative to position the industry. [To] go out on a limb, so to speak, to raise those kind of funds to do what we have to do. From our perspective, the industry has suffered se verely economically in the past five to eight years. There havent been too many profit making seasons and on top of it, you get canker and tariffs. The battle is being fought not only, you know, in this global arena, but under probably more financial stre ss than weve ever faced. Mansfield: When did Andy LaVigne take over, come in to Florida Citrus? Hamel: Gosh! Probably five to seven or eight years ago. Youd have to go back and look that up. Mansfield: I interviewed him and youd think Id remember. Hamel: You know time flies when youre having fun. I bet you Im wrong, that its been longer than that, but I would say five to seven years. Mansfield: Okay, so it feels about like that [length of time]. You were telling me about Bob Crawford at the D epartment of Florida Citrus and he had a more political Hamel: Yeah, Bobs background was more political. He was a farmer, came up out of a farm family. He ran for state representative and then was state senator and then was president of the senate then was agriculture commissioner. Then he was hired on as the executive director of the Department of Citrus. His approach at the department was much more political than anybody had experienced over the years. But, Bob was a politician. Therefore his leaders hip focused a great deal on the power base he had established through these various elected positions, all the way up to agriculture. In fact, at one time President Bush was considering him to be Secretary of Agriculture for the US. He was one of the [cand idates] at the time. So he


18 had substantial political achievement and political acumen. His approach at the department was much more politically oriented than any executive director. Of course, Ive only been through four and two of the four are the same p erson. When I came in, in 88, Dan Gunter, who is now there, was the executive director. Then Dan went into private industry and the department hired a marketing guy, Dan Santangleo, who was pure marketing. He came out of I guess it was Proctor and Gamble, or Campbell Soup, one of the food marketing companies. I though he did a really good job for several years, in repositioning and refocusing the department on the marketing. When the administrations changed, the democrats from the Lawton Childs era. The co mmissioners were changed, because these are gubernatorial appointments. They felt they had to make a change in leadership, so thats when they started looking around and thats when they brought Bob Crawford in. The republicans took over the governors man sion and it kind of shifted from the democratic selections to the republican selections. Mansfield: How did the growers respond to a more politically active Department of Citrus? Hamel: I think, initially they were fine. Of course we started to face pre tty severe economic times, where the marketing and the PR [End Tape 1, Side A. Begin Tape 1, Side B.] Hamel: The Department was doing under Crawford wasnt getting the job done either. We were having to rely on a lot of the ah political stuff. So I t hink people started to get edgy about it. After a while the bottom line wasnt changing any. In fact it was going from bad to worse. I think they took so much of it. Then there seemed to be some infighting between Mutual, who used to handle the political s tuff and the Department which some people felt should not be involved in it. At least not at the level that it seemed to be. So there was some political infighting about that and at the same time the


19 results werent there, especially in the marketing and t he return to growers. Thats part of the reason they fund the marketing program is to help on the bottom line. So Bob I dont know exactly how many years he was there, it might have been three of four [years] that he ran the department [before he resigned ]. Then [the Citrus Commission] brought Dan back, because [of his knowledge and background]. When he was in the private sector, his job was in marketing, working with the different citrus companies to enhance sales and stuff like that. Hes done a real goo d job of bringing the Department back and getting focused, letting Mutual and organizations like ours getting more in the political side of it. Mansfield: There is that controversy, oh I guess it still going on where several growers are suing the Departme nt of Citrus. Hamel: W ell, that doesnt have much to do the international trade issue, it has more to do with the philosophy on whether or not the return on your investment from your tax dollars to generically promote a product is a good investment. There is a difference of opinion with these individual companies that are suing the Department on those grounds. Mansfield: Do you think that kind of internal controversy with the Department of Florida Citrus, did that contribute to forming the Citrus Tariff O versight Committee, to make it an independent organization? Hamel: Im sure that all of those factors weighted in to some degree. Mansfield: How do you think Hamel: Several growers wear several hats. You can be a citrus commissioner, you can be a Citru s Mutual member, you can be a Gulf Citrus member. You could wear several hats, you could be chairman of the Gulf government affairs committee and be a citrus commissioner.


20 This is not really a huge industry. Like any other, you have a grower leadership bas e and usually that leadership base or their family has been there for generations. Its both good and bad. Its hard to bring in some new blood and come up with creative ideas when youve got a lot of traditional generational input and philosophies built up. I think the tariff oversight committee was pretty much put together to collect and manage that money. The Department, they collect money, the tax money, principally to market the products, not to do political communications. Mansfield: I just read t hat some people fear if the lawsuit is successful, it will spell the end of the Department of Florida Citrus. Hamel: There are people that are in the lawsuit that have, on several occasions publicly said that they do not want to end the Department of Citr us. There is a role for the Department of Citrus that might not be in generic advertising. Mansfield: Im trying to think, somebody said they were going to wait and see its been appealed. Theyre going to wait and see what happens after that. Where do yo u think you stand where does the Florida citrus industry stand in the efforts to keep the protective tariff in place? Hamel: I think the expression that Yogi Berra always used, It aint over till its over. I think that is how we stand. I think weve d one a masterful job through the CTOC to get our messages out, to make people and more importantly the [Bush] administration aware of the sensitivities of our industry towards this.[They] have been publicly communicated on numerous occasions by President Bu sh and the administration. I think weve done a great job on that, but its just like anything else, we cant let our guard down. Therere trade agreements being cut as we speak. The CAFTA [Central American Free Trade Agreement] is underway. There is a lo t of pressure being put on our industry to support the passage of CAFTA, which some people say is similar to NAFTA. One more trade agreement that will help structure the FTAA, which is our tariff protection mechanism.


21 So I think were doing great. The mes sage is getting out there at various levels in various channels. I dont think the Brazilians are happy at the level of support weve been able to garner through this collective initiative. But, were not out of the woods yet. Weve got to stay the course. Weve got to be vigilant. Weve got to continue to invest in our battle. We need to continue to educate our growers and keep them informed and involved. So I think were in for the long haul. I think a lot of the strength of this effort, for right or for wrong, could be attributed to the good leadership at the top. But more importantly the grassroots efforts at the regional and county levels, with the growers themselves getting involved in it. But people had to motivate them to do that and thats where th e leadership in the CTOC and the initiatives of Mutual and the Department the organizations, like ours, has got to drive these guys, to get them to fight the battle. Farmers like to farm, growers like to grow, they dont want to go to city hall. They dont want to go into Dodge. They hire people like me to do that and part of my job is to get them active and to get them motivated and get them trained and educated to go out there and plead their case. The powers that be want to hear from the growers, not fro m the hired people. Mansfield: How hard is it to organize farmers? Hamel: Its like herding cats. Mansfield: [laughs] Could you expound upon that a little bit? Hamel: Ive never herded cats. Im just pretending. Its a continual effort. The key is to r ecruit the right leaders and motivate them. Keep them excited, keep them moving forward and assisting them to be successful and keeping them involved. Its a challenge. Its a challenge, but its fun. Its very rewarding when you can see that youre making progress. We have a lot of that here. And we also try to recognize them. They get embarrassed and kick dirt when youre saying nice stuff about them, but I think it wears well. By human nature people like to be recognized for their efforts and we try t o do a fair amount of that here.


22 Were always ready to say thank you and to recognize them and to pat them on the back. But Im also ready with the stick behind them, when I need to get them out. So its a challenge, to get them motivated, even when their lively hood is at stake. It never ceases to amaze me that I get more entrenched in some of these issues and I dont have one single citrus tree, not even back yard tree. And yet, Ive got to be the motivator. Youve got to be willing to accept that when y our association management, Its not just growers, its any association. Mansfield: Some people Ive talked to have said that the growers are confronted with so many different challenges, water use, land use, canker, that it is hard to get them organized. So tell me some more about the different issues that are challenging the growers. Hamel: They are so numerous. I dont know where to begin. The water issue here, I mean water and Florida! It is a very local issue but it is a regional issue, the way the districts are organized. In our particular part of the state, water is a major issue. Im on a group called the Smart Growth Committee for Lee County, which is a growth management group, citizens group, picked by commissioners. There are very sensitive are as in the county and they dont want any growth or development in these areas because they are trying to protect the water resources for growth and people and the environment. From the agricultural perspective we are constantly facing competition from urba n growth and the environmental community on water. Water management, water conservation and water quality. So growers are having to become a lot more educated and a lot more sensitive uh in how they manage their water. I would think the same would be true through out the state and probably throughout the country. Basically, farmers are good water managers. They have to be, to be able to raise their crops. They dont usually waste it. So a lot of our water battles have to do with PR and getting out there a nd telling that story. It is difficult to get farmers to go out there to tell their story, when it comes to water management. So were trying to do that too, with tours. Bring them out show them the physical aspects of water


23 management, be it the micro jet irrigation technology, the computerized systems you know all of the technology thats being employed on the farm. So its a communications issue. Of course the water issue is so closely linked to the land use issue and land management. And then the speci es issues that has to do with the Endangered Species Act. There are a lot of critters that make a citrus grove, or those adjacent lands that are all part of the grove community home. So those issues get brought into the perspective. We got to manage crit ters. We got to manage water. We got to manage land. We got folks moving in from around the country and now that they are here they dont want to be next to a farm. So they want to pass ordinances saying we dont want people out spraying for pests, or we dont want people out plowing ground. So we get tree ordinances and land management ordinances and spray ordinances. So there is always something on the horizon. Mansfield: What about the canker issue? That seems to be Hamel: Well that one was brought in. At least from my perspective, the more international and global we become the more we open our selves up to pests and disease coming in. People bringing in all kinds of stuff. Not only that, but the importation of pests and diseases as well as bad prod ucts, being shipped in. If we open up our markets and other countries arent inspecting from the food safety perspective as well as were trying to do here there is a lot of vulnerability there. You know, if an orange comes in and it ends up at a grocery s tore and its sold and the press hits and says oranges are spreading diseases, customers arent going to buy oranges period. It doesnt matter where they come from. So those are big issues. Globalization, all of these things, just make farming and citru s growing more complicated and more complex than they used to. More and more societal pressures and growth pressures, global pressures are being brought to bear. The canker is a classic example of how the importation of these things (because we are so mo bile) came in and got settled in to the airport around Miami. And the rest is history. Its just spreading all over through natural means as well as people moving it.


24 Mansfield: What do you think the future holds for the Florida citrus industry? Hamel: [ pause] I wish I had a crystal ball. Mansfield: [laughs] Hamel: I have to be optimistic. Im probably in a region that has truly been blessed in many ways. Including the fact that Mother Nature sent those storms to other parts of the state rather than our region. [Sound of Hamel knocking the table.] Thats knocking wood so that we wont get our share of hurricanes here, like we got peppered last year, all around us. Just a little tip of this region got hit. So from my perspective, in this region I have t o be positive. I feel [the citrus industry has] probably got as much staying power in southwest Florida as any other part of the state. There are a number of reasons for that. Were south of the freeze line, for the most part. I think we have more capitali zed operations. I think we have more diverse operations. I think we have excellent leadership and management in our region. And certainly, if we can protect our water and our land rights, I think the community sees us as white hats [good guys]. Weve done public opinion polls [and they show that] people love us. They like our industry here. They want us here. Were environmentally sensitive. Were sustainable. If we can keep our prices up and keep that tariff [in place]. I think our guys, when they draw th eir swords, they are going to be in there. They are going to stay in the battle. Theyre going to fight. So I have to be optimistic about this part of the state and the industry. People ask me if about that because they hear about all of these things. As early as this morning, with the Governors Breakfast, I brought orange juice for the mayor. Our mayor was the host. It was the cabinet for the day. The Governor and the Cabinet come down for the day to these communities, and today it was Fort Myers Cabinet Day. And I got our guys out there, went and bought the orange juice and everybody served it and the Mayor got up and said: I want you guys to drink this great orange juice, because the growers here provided it for you. Thats all part of it. I mean we re out there in the


25 community. Were active and I have to be optimistic about it. I think we keep fighting wars and I think well hang it there. If we can get our economics coming out a little bit and bring in a little more technology, particularly in har vesting. Again, were kind of pioneering that here. So well be the first region to really get heavy into the mechanical harvesting and get these labor costs more inline, which will make us more competitive in the global market. Mansfield: Do you think th at, with all the people who used to earn money picking the oranges are displaced by the machines? Hamel: Well, I dont think it would be all of them and I think the vast majority of those funds are sent back to the countries [of origin of the farm workers ]. Its going to change the industry. I think there is going to be a different group of technologically oriented laborers that are going to run the equipment and service the equipment. Its becoming more and more difficult for us to hire um hand workers an d laborers because of the competition from construction and nursery companies and service industries that are taking that labor source from us. Its driving our prices even higher, which is making us even less competitive, with our competitors to the south [Brazil]. I predict, within five to seven years, well be harvesting 30% to 40% of the citrus from this region, mechanically. I mean, weve got the ground, were a flat woods growing area. We dont have any hills. Weve got bigger operators, larger acrea ge. The technology is going to work here. Were going to revolutionize the industry here within five to seven years. Mansfield: Well, Ive been throwing question at you for the past hour. Is there anything you want to tell me about that I havent asked ab out? Hamel: No. I think youve pretty much covered the waterfront. No, I think we pretty much covered it.


26 Mansfield: Let me thank you for taking the time to share this information with me. Ive sure enjoyed it and feel like Ive learned a lot too. Al so I need to remind you that the information youve shared with me will be deposited at the Special Collections of the University of South Florida. In order for scholars to have access to it we need to get you to sign a release form. Any questions you migh t have about that. Hamel: No. Mansfield: Okay, great. Let me shut this thing off. [End of interview.]

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Hamel, Ron.
Ron Hamel
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interviewed by William Mansfield.
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Florida citrus oral history project
The interview focuses on the formation of the Gulf Citrus Growers and its public relations and lobbying efforts. Hamel discusses land use issues, water use, canker eradication, mechanical harvesting, and free trade legislation.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Interview conducted June 6, 2005, in LaBelle, Fla.
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