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interviewed by William Mansfield.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (59 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (digital, PDF file)
Florida citrus oral history project
The interview focuses on Watters' views as a small citrus grower. Discussion includes operations of citrus farming, Watters' personal history with growing citrus, hurricanes, the real estate market, and the changing market conditions.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Interview conducted May 4, 2005, in Lake Placid, Fla.
Citrus fruit industry
Tariff on oranges.
Florida Citrus Commission.
Dept. of Citrus.
Real estate development
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
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: Malcolm Watters Interviewed by: William Mansfield Location: Lake Placid, Florida Date: May 4, 2005 Transcribed by: Wm. Mansfield Edited by: Malcolm Watters & Wm. Mansfield [Tape 1, Side A.] Bill Mansfield: I always but a label on the disk by saying, this is Bill Mansfield from the Globalization Research Center talking with Mr. Malcolm Watters at his home in Lake Placid, Florida on May 4, 2005. And Mr. Watters, 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. Malcolm Watters: All right Bill. My name is Malcolm Watters, Jr. And I was born in Sebring, Florida, Hi ghlands County, on January 15, 1948. So Im a native, probably [Ive lived in this area] fifteen miles from where we sit, basically my entire life, other than going off to the University of Florida, from 1966 to 1970. Mansfield: Thats something I want to ask about too, is your education. So tell me about what, you went to school here in Sebring? Watters: Yes. Graduated Sebring High School in 1966. Was accepted to the University of Florida and went all four years, up to the University. Got a degree in fru it crops and graduated in August of 1970. My father was in the citrus business in Lake Placid at the time. Were kind of a third generation citrus family. He owned Lake Placid Care Takers, at the time. He took care of and did custom work for probably a co uple of thousand acres of citrus, around the area. He was ready to retire and have somebody take over the business. He actually sold
2 out of Lake Placid Care Takers, but his [kept] own groves I started managing his groves. Eventually [I] bought some groves from him and planted some others. [Its] not a really big citrus organization. I personally have a hundred and forty acres of citrus and Im in a corporation with two other people, my sisters, that has another ninety three acres. And I manage my dads est ate that has sixty acres of citrus in it. Mansfield: Do you manage any other peoples citrus? Watters: Well, I formed a care taking corporation back in, I think about and I did do some other individuals properties, probably four or five other indivi duals. And I finally worked my way back to doing my stuff. Cause I do mostly, actually today as we speak, the organization is just my son and I. Hes 32. He also graduated from the University of Florida. He comes back and its just the two of us doing all the work. Mansfield: Tell me about the work thats involved in looking after your oranges. Watters: We do all the custom work. [At the] first of the season we do all of the spraying, fertilization, hand work, planting trees even got a little hedging mac hine, we do most of our own hedging. About the only thing we dont do is the harvesting. We have a contract crew come in and do that for us. Basically, everything else we do, we do in house. It was tough in the 70s when I started out. I remember the firs t year I had ten acres of Valencias and couldnt sell my fruit. Seems like we had a big year, or something, that year. I asked all around and finally got somebody to take it for, I think it was forty cents a pound, thirty or forty cents a pound solids. A nd [I] was happy to get it. Then I thought this is going to be a tough deal, but it progressively got better. We did very well in the 80s. We had a lot of natural disasters, I guess youd call it, freezes in this area. The price was good. If you want to call it supply and demand, seems like things were working. We did very well.
3 In the 90s it got where, I dont know, were just had a lot of planting after the 80s. We had a lot people concerned about these freezes. The citrus industry was moving south a nd planting a lot of big acreages. So I was thinking the day was coming when wed probably have bad prices again. And that we might need to start thinking of other things to be doing. It didnt really get to that point I though it would happen in five, si x or seven years and it seems that it took more like ten or twelve years before we started really seeing that. Then the prices have not been too good for us here, from the mid 90s to date. [They have] kind of [taken] the fun out of growing citrus. Making money helps you a little bit, but not making money, you dont enjoy it quite as much. Mansfield: Everybody has told me that there were a series of really bad freezes in the 1980s that destroyed a lot of citrus, but it also drove prices up. Did you all l oose a lot of fruit in the 80s? Or did you manage to escape the freezes? Watters: We didnt loose a lot of fruit here. We got a lot of damage. I recall one block I had, I lost, probably 35% of my fruit fell on the ground one year. But we were able to sal vage the bulk of the crop, in all of these years. The oranges would not test good, because they lost some juice due to dryness, but we never got it so bad where we lost the entire crop. Mansfield: You said, in the mid 90s the prices went down. What expla nation would you have for the prices decline at that point? Watters: Well, the inventories have been getting bigger and bigger, as a result of the freezes of the 80s there was a lot of importation of juice into this country. I think mainly Brazil. I act ually took a trip to Brazil, in about 1985. That was kind of the talk of what was going on and we spent about ten days [there]. Three or four growers went down and toured the area. It was phenomenal the amount of citrus that they had at that time.
4 Mansfie ld: What were your thoughts? Im asking you to think back almost twenty years, but when you saw what they were doing in Brazil, what did you think about that? Watters: We had a tariff in place at the time, which we still do. That was the only thing savi ng us, is [Brazil] had to pay that tariff to bring it into the States. But it also limited the game for us, because it was a world market at that time and the price was kind of set by that tariff. Im not sure if it is solely the supply of citrus. I think there are a lot of factors that cause the price to be what it is. Its very complicated today. I was talking to a man the other day [and] he was talking about the stock market and how things are supposed to work. In history it did this and that and it doe snt work that way anymore. Its just gotten more complicated and complex. I think thats what here too. When you sell fruit, the marketers well for instance we had a packinghouse, a local co op in town, we worked years and years with that and we sold thr ough different organizations. We always had a little trouble, all the time. Youd send a load of fruit and it would be very good quality fruit and youd send it, say to New York or something. Three days later youd get a call saying the fruits no good, w ere going to have to cut the price. Wed say, ok lets call for a federal inspection. So they would have a federal inspector come in and check the fruit. Theyd say, its no good. Instead of nine dollars a carton, its worth three. Mansfield: Thats got to be a big disappointment. Watters: Yeah. We dont even cover shipping costs sometimes. A lot of things like that put us out of the packinghouse business. It turned out, fifteen or eighteen months after we were out of it, they indited thirteen Federal Inspectors in that area for taking bribes and kickbacks. We knew it going on at the time, it was just hard to make the trip to fly up to New York. And what are you going to do? There were a combination of things like that. The chain stores, some of the b ig ones have started saying, If you want to deal with us youre going to have to do it our way. You pay us a little on the side to work with us. Things of that nature.
5 Mansfield: They would say that to you, or the vendor with whom you sold your fruit? Watters: Well, for instance at our packinghouse they started coming out with these little price code labels, identifying labels. Heres one, a peach [demonstrates with peach from bowl on the table]. Those labels cost a certain amount of money to put on. Plus you had to buy the equipment to put them on. Price look up codes, or whatever they call them. It got to be some of the chains would say, Were not going to take your fruit unless you put them on [your fruit]. Well pa [for them] you to start with. But then later on, Thats an expense you should bear. Everything always came back to the grower. Thats what made it so difficult. I dont know this for a fact but certain other suppliers would say, If you want to deal with us you have to have your fr uit packaged in our containers. Picked up at certain times and delivered at certain times. You do it our way, if you want to deal with us. Were going to take a quarter a box off the top for your right to deal with us. Now thats what Ive heard. Mansfie ld: So they are dictating terms to you? Watters: Right. Mansfield: That was a question, I was going to ask earlier, the oranges that you grow, are they for what they call fresh fruit? Do you just sell them as oranges or do you process them for the juice? Watters: Weve done both, but now were almost entirely juice. What we did, a lot of times, if it was a pretty crop and the fresh market was worth more, wed go that route. If not, wed go the processed route. But I believe when our packinghouse went o ut of business, our packinghouse [was] a member of Citrus World, Floridas Natural. Thats a co op that was originally s made up of thirteen packinghouses. So we had the option of packing or taking it up to the plant.
6 But I also dealt with some other [pl ants] I was involved with Tropicana for probably twenty five years. I sold about half of my stuff to Tropicana and the rest of it, either packed, or Floridas Natural. I recall one time in the late 80s; I had a block of tangelos, Orlando tangelos and a fe llow called me saying he needed them real bad. So We made a deal on that and I think I got eleven and a half dollars on the tree. He wanted more, so I talked to some of my neighbors and area growers. I didnt have to talk them into it because thats a ver y good price and thats probably as good a price as we ever got. Then probably two years ago I pushed that tangelo block up. Its come full circle with that. Im solely [committed] to juice oranges in there. Its all Valencias at this time. Havent even p icked a crop off of it. Mansfield: Well, it takes a while to get where you can harvest them doesnt it? Watters: Right. Mansfield: Now you pretty much sell all for juice? Watters: Thats correct. Mansfield: Okay. Tell me about selling your fruit. How does that work? Do you contact them? Do they contact you? Who do you deal with when you go to sell your oranges. Watters: Well, like I said, Bill, earlier I was about 50% with Tropicana. I [knew] quite a few people over there over the years. Tropicana w ent through a number of changes. They were bought out at least three times since I started dealing with them. People change all the time. You know they weed people in and out. You got different people and it got to the point that I, basically, didnt know anybody over there. And Im thinking, with this market getting in a tight situation (over supply, with all of stuff from the south area coming in) you need to [have a home for your fruit]. So I ended up putting all of my stuff in citrus world. You own th e groves. You own the
7 company. Thats their commercial. Actually Im in a participation deal with them. They squeeze all of my juice and whatever the returns, its a true co op, they pay you. Im locked into that deal, unless I give them two years notic e to get out of it. So Im pretty much in there. And I pretty much, take what I get. Mansfield: And how do you like that? Is it a good deal? Do you feel like thats the best you can do? And when I say the best you can do, I mean you take what you get, rat her than taking what you want. Watters: [sighs] Well, theres people that people that make more money. A lot of them are out there. But I dont know Im supposedly getting the true price of fruit, whatever the true price of fruit, what fruit reflects. It s considerably lower than what you hear from growers that are selling n the cash market, or short term and long term contracts with some of these other plants. For instance, I heard the other day the price right now on the cash market was $1.15, $1.20 on Valencias. I havent gotten $1.20 in ten years. There was a point, last season, [the] 2003 2004 season that the cash market was probably the lowest its ever been, after adjusting for inflation and what not. Thats about the only I can recall it has been lower that what you can get in a participation plan. Mansfield: Is the cash market more of a risk that with the contract? Watters: When I was with Tropicana I always had a contract with a floor. That would take a lot of the risk out of it. I would have a base that I could live by, and it adjusted, basically upwards for there. If I was happy with the floor it was pretty good. Cash market, sure it would be riskier, but like I said, last year was the only time that I can recall where you got a bad deal out of the cash market. Mansfield: People have explained the long term contracts with me and that seems to be the safest way to go. How would you categorize it?
8 Watters: I would say its probably the safest. Mansfield: And Ive heard about box contracts an d grove contracts? Watters: Right. Mansfield: So which of those two would you prefer? Watters: Well, we do grove contracts, production contracts. Ill sign up with Citrus World; Ill give a legal description of the property. And we will do a lot of esti mating, for them. To say, we think its going to be X number of boxes, to help them out. But whatever it is, it is. As opposed to a box contract, where I promise ten thousand boxes, then [if] we have some weather conditions, or something and I couldnt f ulfill [the contract] then Id have to go purchase it, to fulfill my contract. Thats not what were looking [at] here. Mansfield: Before we get away from your growing oranges, tell me about you said that you and your son do everything yourself, the spra ying and fertilizing and trimming. But you had a contract crew to do the harvesting? Watters: Right Mansfield: Tell me about that. What kind of outfit is it? How many people are on it? Watters: Well, years ago, another local grower, a larger grower, ha d his own harvesting company. He used to harvest my fruit for me. Itd just bring his crew in and get it done. I have no idea of how many people he hand, or anything, but it was a big operation. And Im thinking, probably in the early 90s, liability becam e an issue for him, doing outside work. If something happened, could he be sued? He got concerned about it and sold part of his operation to a couple of his employees; that at the time actually
9 worked for him doing some outside work. So they formed their own corporation and Ive been with them ever since. Mansfield: I ask that question because there has been a lot of talk about illegal immigrants making up the bulk of the farm workers in this country and I was wondering what kind of knowledge you had the folks who worked for the contractor who pick s your oranges? Do you think there might be illegal aliens? Is that something that concerns you at all? Watters: I dont have the date, but back, probably in the late 80s maybe I had a couple of Mexican labor ers that were working for a harvesting crew. I needed some more labor. So they came over to work for me during the summer, as opposed to going to North Carolina to tobacco, or whatever they do up. They couldnt speak English. Id had a couple of years of S panish in high school. But we got a long. Id pick them up in the morning and they would work and Id take them home. [They were] very dedicated workers. After the summer, one, out of the three stayed on with me, as a full time employee. I had a little mob ile home that he lived in. That guy would work all the time. Even on Sundays he would walk up and down the drive, coming into the house and patch potholes. He just liked to stay busy. I found out later that he had a family in Mexico, a wife and two or thre e kids. What he was doing was sending his money back to Mexico every month. He spent very little of it. He came up to me one day and said, Boss man I would like to go Mexico to see my family. Would that be fine? I said sure. S o he went to Mexico and I found out at that time that he was illegal. I didnt know that before. He had a social security number that he had given me, and a Florida drivers license. So I was just assuming that everything was fine. (How do you get that stuff [if youre illegal]?) After I found out he was not legal I called a couple of congressmen, trying to figure out what I could do to for this guy. They said the best thing for him to do was to try and get his papers in Mexico and come back that way. Bit I could not hire the man. It was five years in prison and a ten thousand dollar fine, for me employing him. So I got
10 the papers for him to him to take to Mexico. [I told him] your going to have to do it on your end. He didnt understand it well enough and couldnt get it done. Late r, he slipped back into the States and called me from somewhere at a meat processing plant, wanting to come back to work. I think he was in Arkansas I told him, I cant do it. They told me Im going to jail if I hire you I felt real bad about that. Withi n two years, I believe it was, we had an amnesty policy. The other two that worked for me that summer came back to me to see if I kept their records, which I had. They could prove employment and they were grated visas to stay. But that man never came back. I dont know what ever happened to him. Mansfield: What an irony that these great workers cant come here. One of the men I interviewed said, that labor is all part of this free trade complex too. That is as important to your oranges as anything else. W atters: Yeah, Brazil, I know those laborers down there got paid, basically nothing to work. Also, they could use chemicals that we couldnt use. The Brazilians would come up to this area and take pictures of our equipment. [Take the] photograph [back] and build [our equipment]. They would make their own machines. They could use chemicals we couldnt use, have cheap labor and though most of their groves arent irrigated they had a lot of them. And grew a lot of fruit. Mansfield: Ive heard that they dont have near the overhead that, nor the regulations there that we do here. Youre aware of the effort to eliminate the tariff on [imported] orange juice? Watters: Right. Mansfield: Whats your position on that? Watters: I dont like it a bit [chuckles at such an obvious question]. That would put us out of business, totally, I think.
11 Mansfield: What have you done to make sure the tariff stays in place? Watters: Im a member of Florida Citrus Mutual and Highland County Citrus Growers Association and the yre kind of doing the legwork for me, individually. Ands I did do a survey with the trade Commission. I got a questionnaire about the anti dumping regulations and stuff. I set them a letter off, regarding that. But you know I just support those organizati ons, basically. Mansfield: When you say support them does that mean membership dues or writing letters? What do they ask you to do? Watters: I recall writing a letter or two. And Im not even sure what the issue was, but Ive written letters and put som e money in the PAC funds. And membership, and thats about it. Mansfield: How do you feel that Florida Citrus Mutual is doing in their efforts to keep the protective tariff in place? Watters: [sighs] I think we would have lost [the tariffs] by now, if it wasnt for Mutual. They really doing a good job on it right now. Mansfield: And what about the Highlands County Citrus Growers Association? Watters: Well, their just another stepping stone in that process. It comes down to [this]; they relate a lot of Mutual stuff to the local growers. Its just another support system, but Mutual takes the lead [with the tariff] in that respect. Mansfield: So what is your perception of what Citrus Mutual is doing? Or what do they tell you about what they are doing?
12 Wa tters: Theres a lot of lobbying, I guess youd call it. They meet with Congressmen all the time and influential groups and push our interests, with the Secretary of not the Secretary of trade, but the trade commission. Theyve bent some ears and gotten so me good results from it. Mansfield: What about the Florida Department of Citrus? Watters: Theyre kind of the same things. Seems like we had a set back with the Department of Citrus. I would say we lost some of our key advertisement people. The staff was cut back. It seemed like we were doing the wrong things to promote citrus and sale just sort of went down. And on top of oversupply and everything, it looked like we were kind of heading in the wrong direction. It seems like weve turned that back a round now with Dr. Gunter in there. When youre selling something you have to be with the buyer and bend his ear every once and a while. Remind him that youre still selling something. It doesnt matter if it is cars or anything, especially produce, you know [ something] people buy all the time. Mansfield: What, there is that lawsuit against the Department of Citrus, tell me what you know about that? Tell me your understanding of the lawsuit. Watters: Okay, let me think about this a little bit. As I understa nd it, the [litigates] didnt think that the box tax we paid the Citrus Commission [sic; Florida Department of Citrus] was helping them at all. That it was a waste of time and they thought, maybe it was illegal because Theyre also promoting [Brazils citr us], when they did promote citrus it was not necessarily Florida citrus but all kinds of citrus. And they werent getting their moneys worth. And thought they could do a better job spending that money themselves. [Thats how] I understand it. I dont rea lly agree with that. I think we could probably do a better job, sometimes, but I think you have to do it.
13 Mansfield: You mean the promoting that the Department of Florida Citrus is doing? Watters: Right. Mansfield: So whats your take on the people who are fighting it? Do you see them as misguided, as adversarial? How would you categorize them? Watters: [thoughtful pause] Well, you know it takes all kinds to make the world go round. Mansfield: [laughs] Watters: You know it really does. I think they h ave their rights to their beliefs but I dont think they are correct on it. Ill give you a for instance that happened to me. Im the only one that lives on this little lake here. My neighbor put his grove up for sale. He wants to change the zoning and put in multiple houses in there. Two houses per acre, or whatever. I said, Boy, thats going to tough on me. Raising oranges out in the middle of nowhere and all of a sudden have fifty or sixty neighbors. I dont like it. But each man has his own rights and property rights [is one of them]. Im for them. But the same guy that would change the zoning for his own benefit [earlier, a similar] situation came [about] on the lake [that] he was on. And he didnt like it either. Mansfield: So he was experiencin g what you were experiencing? Watters: Right. Its okay as along as it doesnt happen to me. [Sardonic laugh]. You know? Mansfield: Did that change his position?
14 Watters: No. But this didnt matter as much to him because he doesnt live here. Its all money oriented. You know you got a piece of property you want to get the most money you can for it. Mansfield: Well, the people Ive talked with [so far told me] there were, like three different levels of growers: the huge corporate growers and then the s maller growers. How would you describe the unity, or disunity among the different levels of growers? Do you feel threatened by the large growers? Do you see them as adversaries or allies? Whats you perspective on that? Watters: No, I see then as cohorts in this business. I dont see any adversity there. A lot of times theyve got a lot of finical strength, where they can try now things, do different things. And sometimes we learn from that. As far as I see it, were all just growers. But I do see it going in that direction, getting bigger. The smaller man has a tough time staying in it. With prices being what theyve been, if hes got any kind of debt service, then its almost a losing battle. Actually I think the big growers having a tough time. Mansfi eld: What are some of the challenges you see the smaller growers facing? Watters: Well, pricing. Your cost, you got to try and keep your production costs down. You cant buy stuff as cheaply as somebody thats going to buy fifty times more than you are. Theyre always going to get a break and thats something [thats] always been there in any type of industry, I think. But I know some small growers that didnt think they could afford to keep their equipment up. Equipment costs keep going up and so they wo uld hire an outside firm to come in and do their tractor work, or something. Then theyd say, Uhm! Thats a lot of money were paying these people. Maybe I could [do it myself]. And the end up buying a used sprayer or something and try to go back to it. I think its basically its just not making money at it. Enough to maintain your equipment.
15 You got to feel good about what youre doing. You got to enjoy it. And I think thats the thing thats happened to most of the growers I know now. Its just not fu n anymore. A lot of them are diversifying into other things. Development is the big thing in the past eighteen months here thats just phenomenal. A grove that was worth maybe six thousand dollars on a profit loss basis, people are selling them for thirty five thousand dollars an acre. Mansfield: [Whistles in surprise at the cost.] Watters: For five acre tracts, you know. Just development. Theyre selling them as fast as they can. Its just incredible right now. Mansfield: I recently read an article ab out how land prices around here are going up and up and up. Watters: I hear a story just about every week that tops the week before. I dont know how long it can last. I relate it to the tech bubble in stocks, sort of thing, when its a frenzy. Right now, I talked to a realtor who told me in January, he had to lock his doors one day. He had so many people trying to get in there that his staff couldnt facilitate that many people. He locked his doors! Id never heard of such a thing. Mansfield: Was he look ing to sell land or were people coming there to Watters: People were [going] there to buy land. Mansfield: You said when it quits being fun, its not worth doing. What is it that makes raising citrus fun for you? What do you like about it? Watters: We ll, when I started out in the early days, youre outside, out in the environment. You could get on tractor and drag a disc along the ground. You get a sense
16 of appreciation for what youre doing. You see these trees. Youre nurturing them and the are produ cing. You get a lot for satisfaction. Then it seemed like it came to a point where everything was more and more regulated. You had to do a lot more paper work. You had to keep records of this and records of that. I used to spend 99% of my time in the fie ld. Now I only spend 39% in the field and the rest with record keeping, bookkeeping, just complications. Whatever you want to call it. Mansfield: So being outside and the physical aspect of it was enjoyable? Watters: Right. Mansfield: And the bookkeepin g part just no fun? Watters: Right. Well theres you know we got more and regulated with chemicals. We dont use near the chemicals we used to use and probably we didnt know we could get the job done as safely as we do now. We hardly use any restricted p esticides or anything. Basically, we heading towards organic. Well, youve got that part of it. You had OSAOH [Office of Safety And Occupational Health] that came in at one point [with a regulation stating], any set of three steps you had to have them p ainted red and a have a guard rail and a fire extinguisher every twenty five feet. You know things that just keep happening. It wasnt just all paper work but you have to constantly upgrade, keep workers compensation and things like that. Thats why I do nt pay workmans now. Its just [us] two in the family and just to get out from [doing a lot of that sort of thing]. Fuel tanks. I had under ground fuel tanks and they started regulating all of these fuel tanks. So I actually changed all my tanks out to above ground tanks. It cost a lot of money to do this changing. But I pulled them up and because I couldnt ell what they looked like under ground. We would do electronic sniffing tests to monitor them at first, but I had to pay somebody to come in. We pu t in monitoring wells and I had to keep records of [fuel levels in the tanks], a bank account system of input and output. Any time
17 somebody fills up and every month send that in. I had to read the water levels for the SWIFT MUD [a water regulating agency] and send that in. My pumpage reports every month, send that in! You know you just got to keep a record of every thing! And when I pulled the storage tanks up, they looked brand new. But you dont want to go through the everyday hassle of all that work all the time. Mansfield: Back in North Carolina we had to get our heating oil tank moved. So I understand what youre talking about. Just the bureaucracy [of it all is so frustrating]. Watters: What buffaloes me is if your tank is under five hundred and fif ty gallons, its not regulated. But if it is five fifty, or over it is. So a lot of growers who had thousand gallon tanks just went out and put in two five hundred and forty gallon tanks. And they dont have to go through all of this. Just the insurance on every tank is very expensive. Insurance and then you got to register them with the state and then youve got to keep up with all the regulations, what ever they can think of to add to that tank. Weve put concrete containment systems around them and paint ed it with a material that wont let it leak. I dont know of any of them that ever leaked. But what I think I should be doing is selling insurance on fuel tanks, cause I dont think youre ever going to have a claim. Mansfield: [laughs] You talked about people who were selling grove land for development. What kind of pressure are you under for that? Watters: Money isnt everything. And I hear what you can get [for your land] all the time. But still I like living out by myself. Were sitting right here in the middle of an eighty acre block. Ive been here for probably thirty years. Basically no neighbors at all and I like that life style, just a little bit. Its not that I dont like people. My pressure to sell out is the price of oranges. If Im going to lose money every year, you can only do it for so long. So youre thinking, I need to hedge my bet. I need to get a little of this action. But nobody is going to stay in a business they cant survive in.
18 Mansfield: What are your strategies for stayi ng in the business? Watters: Im seriously considering selling one grove right now. Ive had an offer on it of twenty two thousand five hundred [dollars] an acre. Its highway frontage. But I know one of my neighbors has his [property] listed for thirty e ight [thousand] five [hundred]. So Im thinking twenty two is [too little]. You know, you dont have to get the top, but you want to keep up with what the market is. Im thinking about putting that on the market and [End Tape 1, Side A. Begin Tape 1, Si de B.] Watters: that just takes a lot if frustration away from me. I dont want to have to beat my head against the wall seven days a week. Ill only want to have to do it three days and hope fully a take little better care of what I got. Weve been cu tting back on costs because were not making a lot of money. Ive always said to myself, Im not going to put more into it than I get out of it, cause youre going backwards. So were just having a tough time right now. We probably would have lost money last year if it hadnt been for the hurricane damage [reimbursement from Federal disaster payments]. Mansfield: Somebody said that the damage to the crops would cause a shortage that would push prices up. Have you found that to be so? Watters: Cash marke t prices have gone up. I dont know, with my participation, whether Im going to see any again. Im a little bit more optimistic right now, than Ive been for the last two or three years. And thats because development has taken [out] a big slug [of acreag e]. Our inventories are down a little bit from what they have been. Actually canker is doing a job on a number of groves. I think there is going to be less acreage. So, hopefully prices will get better, but as I said before, its a complex issue. I tell p eople all the time, its not supply and demand any more. That doesnt work. I think
19 these [grocery store] chains, if theyve got twenty cubic feet they allocate to your orange juice and they are making three dollars a gallon, off of it (which is one of the highest profit things they have.) They dont want to cut the price of it, or raise the price of it. They are doing great with it. Its one of the their things. It seems like its not what I learned in economics in college, Its a different ball game. [The grocery store chains] can do what they want. Thats a big part of it. One day, with in the last year or so, prices were kind of down. Maybe it was right after some of these hurricanes or something. [I was in a produce section in a supermarket]. The price for three oranges was $1.49 or something like that. It worked out to about ninety dollars a box. Im thinking what an ironic situation when Im getting $1.50 a box, but its selling for $90.00. Its crazy. Mansfield: Thats got to be frustrating. Looking to the future citrus in Florida, whats you prediction? Watters: I think, in this area, we have a Not From Concentrate product thats doing pretty well. I think citrus is going to continue to lose acreage to development. Thats what I see. [Citrus] disap pearing, kind of like the tobacco industry in North Carolina. I mean its something thats going away. Mansfield: Thats something that concerns Mr. Kahn. He felt like growing oranges was a big part of Floridas identity and heritage. He was really worrie d seeing it disappear. Watters: I cant see whats going to make it better. Thats the problem. Mansfield: What about the tariff do you think it will stay in place? Do you think it will be removed? Watters: It seems that we got a pretty good lock on it right now. That we feel secure about it. But ten years from now, I dont know. If our piece of the global pie gets smaller and smaller, maybe weve got a chance of losing that. I dont know.
20 Mansfield: Have you thought far enough ahead to think what woul d happen if it did disappear? Watters: You know it seems like that the USA is pretty much a service economy now. Weve lost a lot of our industry; it seems like to me. Were either tech related or service oriented. I kind of like the steel mills and the fa rming and things like that, and not be so dependent on other countries. But its just not the way people think any more. I whish it wasnt going like it is, but I dont know how to change it. Mansfield: Maybe you could say its the way people dont think any more. Watters: Right. Mansfield: I guess Im asking you to speculate and peer into the crystal ball, or read tealeaves or whatever, but what would your strategy be if the tariff is removed? What would you do to stay competitive? Watters: Ive thoug ht about years back we tried to think of these things and my wife even started a business plan of a niche market, for fresh fruit at the time. And she was going to work shed talked with ARC foundations in different states about doing fundraisers and stuff like that with fresh fruit. There seemed to be an idea there but Mansfield: ARC stands for? Watters: The Association for Retarded Citizens. She might have talked to some other groups, but that was one of them I know of that she had some interest in. Sh e does a lot of volunteer kind of work. She actually works for Take Stock In Children right now. It is a mentoring, leadership thing. She was with the American Cancer Society, so shes developed that kind of mentality of how to do things. But a lot of peop le are thinking along those same lines.
21 I know there were people that started fruit stands in, like Pine Hurst [NC]. I went up and studied these little packinghouses. The guy would bring his fruit up there on a weekly basis. Or maybe in a parking lot in R aleigh [NC]. Hed put these fliers out and people would be there to get it. I dont know. The question was, if we loose the tariff? Mansfield: [Nods his head: affirmative] Watters: Probably get out of the business. Mansfield: Are there organizations of small growers that are looking to develop this kind of niche marketing? Where they would sell more directly? Watters: I think this is a five to eight year old thought. That is was pretty strong and some people tried it. I dont hear any talk of that stu ff any more. All Im basically hearing about is land prices, and, Lets get out of it. Or Lets convert to tree farms. Or other crops. Mansfield: I think, back in North Carolina the United Farm Organization and the Farm Stewardship Organization are gr oups that are looking to help small farmers stay in business. I was just wondering if orange growers had though about participating in groups like that. Or if that was an option that was open. Watters: No I dont hear of much of people getting together li ke that in a new venture, or something. But we discussed doing it ourselves. I dont know. Mansfield: It was Citrus World, a co op. Was that the one that started from fresh fruit growers taking fruit [that couldnt be sold as fresh and using it for juice] ? Watters: Right. Right.
22 Mansfield: They ended up [becoming] an orange juice out fit as much as a fresh fruit place. Watters: Right. They are probably a lot more so now. Mansfield: I know thats what my wife gets when she goes to the grocery store. She s helping you all out by buying a lot of orange juice. Watters: [laughs] And youll find some in my refrigerator, but I tell my wife it doesnt make a lot of sense for us to buy it all. Mansfield: Well Ive been throwing questions at you for the past ho ur. Is there anything you want to comment on that I havent asked about? Watters: Ive been thinking so hard, I cant think of anything right now. Probably when you leave Ill think of something. Ill give you a call if I do. Mansfield: Okay. Thatd be g reat if you do. I want to thank you for taking the time to talk with me. Ive enjoyed it and hope I havent strained your thought process too much. But like I said when we started, the information youve shared with me deposited in the Special Collection s of the University of South Floridas library and be available to historians, scholars of different sorts, who will be researching this. In order for them to have access to this interview I have to ask you to sign a release form. Watters: All right. Man sfield: Also, Ive been photographing everybody Ive talked to. Would you mind if I took your picture? Watters: [chuckles] Not at all.
23 Mansfield: Okay. Let me turn this thing off. [End of interview.]