IMG Citrus, a family-owned, vertically-integrated citrus grower, packer, and shipper in Florida, has announced the acquisition of one of the largest grapefruit groves in St Lucie County.
The 4,000-acre grove increases the group's control of citrus land management in Florida by over 75 per cent, securing its position as an established citrus leader in the state of Florida and solidifying its commitment to the industry, according to IMG.
The grove has been renamed Happy Food Grove, after IMG's main consumer brand 'Happy Food', which can be found in supermarkets across the US, Canada, Europe, and Asia.
“Investing in agri-business is always risky, but citrus is even more so today because of greening,” said Michel Sallin, IMG Citrus president. “We know Florida grapefruit is the best in the world. We believe in this industry and we believe in Florida grapefruit. A solution to greening will be found, and when that day comes, we’ll be ready.”
While citrus greening remains a threat, IMG Citrus’ production model utilises innovative practices and technologies to keep groves productive and profitable, according to the group.
“We have adopted a more aggressive approach to production, focusing on high density, and super high density planting methods to help combat greening by creating a more controlled environment,” said Brian Randolph, director of grove production. “In the new grove, we can optimise nutrient and water management, a critical factor for production in a greening environment. This level of precision not only helps keep the trees healthy, but it’s more environmentally sustainable by reducing water use and nutrient runoff.”
An additional 397 undeveloped tree acres will be home to the company’s new grove redevelopment project, with 273 acres of citrus trees to be set within high-density planting blocks predicted to produce mature fruit within three years, and 124 acres of trees set within existing traditional blocks.
IMG's high density planting methods were fine-tuned over the last three years at their groves at Cherrylake, IMG Citrus’ sister company, also founded and operated by the Sallin family.
“Cherrylake was originally all citrus groves,” Sallin explained. “We lost nearly everything during the freezes in the 1980s. Rather than shut everything down, we adapted by turning our Cherrylake property into a thriving, ornamental tree farm that focuses on landscape construction and maintenance, while moving our citrus operation down south to where it is today. 75 Acres of land at Cherrylake is still dedicated to citrus, where we have been able to explore new varieties and high density planting methods.”
The newly-acquired Happy Food Grove also contains a 300-acre reservoir, and is home to native wildlife including deer, wild turkey, alligators, Roseate Spoonbills, and Blue Herons.
“We are stewards of our environment, and we diligently protect the quality of our air, land, and water,” said Sallin. “We realise that we do not own our land, but rather, we are borrowing it from future generations. Our best management practices help ensure our horticultural practices are in line with this philosophy.”
In addition to the land purchase, the acquisition also included transitioning 17 existing grove employees to IMG Citrus.
“It was important to us that we did not disrupt the operation of the grove, and more importantly, that the employees felt reassured that IMG Citrus would continue to provide them the opportunity to work and grow within the company,” said Joaquin Perez, human resources manager. “Our goal is to make the transition as easy and as seamless as possible, and I think we’ve done that well through open communication. Employees have kept their same positions, they’re just part of a bigger family now.”