In the Grove & On the Record - Steve Crump
This edition’s profile features one of Mutual’s northern-most members, Steve Crump.
What is your job title and description?
My title is President of Vo-LaSalle Farms, Inc. but since we’re such a small family business I don’t have many people to preside over. I manage the daily citrus grove care and harvesting and often get stuck making the equipment repairs.
Can you give me some background on the company you work for?
Vo-LaSalle Farms was started by my grandfather, Chester Strawn, in 1968 after he and his 3 brothers split apart a larger citrus and ranching farm. He created the company name to represent the two seperate farming operations. He received citrus groves and land here in Volusia county and the Strawn family’s home farm lands in LaSalle county Illinois. While the Illinois land was farmed by a familly living there, my grandfather worked the Florida farm with one hired man until he encouraged my dad and mom to move to DeLeon Springs and help him in 1978. My parents were high school teachers and my dad had no citrus expierence but they both made the jump into farming. I was 12 when we moved to DeLeon Springs and began farming. Our company still owns the Illinois farm and my parents travel there every fall to help our farmer with the corn and soybean harvest.
What is your educational background?
I received a B.S. degree in Citrus- Business from Florida Southern College in 1988. I then went to work for A. Duda and Sons in Ft. Pierce as a citrus manager.
Who or what were the key influences in your life related to your involvement in the citrus industry?
My dad encouraged me study citrus in college. I enjoyed FFA in high school, working outside and with my hands to create something. The late Drs. Long and and the Wedgeworth Leadership Institute at the University of Florida taught me the importance of being an involved and informed farmer/citizen.
What is your first memory in or related to the groves?
In elementry school, my younger brother and I would pick a wagon load of oranges from the trees in our backyard and then pull them around the neighborhood and try to sell them for a nickel each. That was my first citrus sale, but I don’t remember making more than a dollar each and only doing it for a day. Optimistically we would try it again the next year but with about the same success. When I was 12 and my brother 10, my dad took us out in 1978 to freeze protect one of the groves with him. He and my grandfather built a three sided plywood shed and set up some old cots and folding lawn chairs in it. The shed had no roof and only served to stop the wind created by the wind machine. My brother and I would sleep in sleeping bags on the cots until one of the adults woke us and then we were to help them fire the grove by burning lighter wood. During the night clouds moved over and by 3AM or so my dad decided the cold threat had passed. He decided to leave the wind machine running and return at sunrise and forgot my brother and I sleeping on the cots and went home and to bed. As everyone knows, after several nights of freeze protecting your thinking isn’t as clear as it normally would be. When he got home and into bed, my mother asked if the boys were in their beds too. When she found out he left us, she sent him back out to pick us up and bring us home. She wasn’t about to let her babies wake alone in the middle of an orange grove in the dark. My brother and I didn’t know we were left alone and it wasn’t until the next freeze protecting season before dad admitted to leaving us in the grove that night.
What do you find the most challenging about being in the Florida citrus industry?
The most difficult thing in the citrus industry for us at this time is trying to grow a replacement tree in an exsisting grove. The combination of HLB and extremely low winter temperatures for the last three years has hammered our trees, especially those less than 5 years old. We’ll grow new wood only to have it killed the next winter and the HLB infected trees are often killed completely. Even though this winter was mild, we had 2 separate nights of freeze events and with lows in the mid 20s and the youngest trees flushing and actively growing.
What unique challenges do you face due to your location farther north in the citrus growing region?
This far north in the citrus belt cold can be a challenge for us. We’ll receive many frost events and low temperatures each winter. If the trees are acclimated by cold weather, we’ll often do better than groves farther south of us on hard freeze nights. But if we have a mild winter like this year and then it dips down for one night, we’ll get colder and for longer durations than growers south of Interstate 4 and suffer substantially more freeze damage. The other challenge we’ve had since the freezes of the ‘80s was the loss grove acreage and subsequent loss of citrus infrastructure. The buyers disappeared, the tractor dealerships closed, and many of the citrus people moved or changed careers. The University of Florida and IFAS did commit to keeping a citrus agent in the northern tier and that continues to be greatly beneficial. Although we didn’t have much fruit, we struggled to find an honest buyer and a harvesting crew willing to pick it. Fortunately C. Young Citrus began buying in our county and we purchased an old loader and began hiring our own harvesters so we could get the little bit fruit left in area picked and sold.
What do you think will change about the Florida citrus industry in the next five years?
I think the citrus industy in our area will continue to shrink despite high fruit prices. Many of the smaller growers will find HLB too difficult to deal with and their groves will become unproductive. I also think orange juice consumption will continue to decrease but fresh fruit and fruit salad consumption will increase nationwide. The demand will increase for fresh fruit, especially for seedless and flavorful fruit.
If you weren’t in citrus, what would you be doing instead?
If I wasn’t a citrus grower, I’d like to be contractor and build things or a landscaper. I couldn’t design a building or landscape, but I take pride in creating with my hands.
What’s the toughest challenge you’ve faced – either work or personal?
None – I’ve had a blessed life.
What other organizations are you involved in?
Other organizations: Deland Breakfast Rotary Club, YMCA Camp Winona board, volunteer for the Alliance for International Reforestation in Guatemala.
Why do you believe it’s important to be a member of Florida Citrus Mutual?
We’re Mutual members because Mutual speaks for us and all citrus growers with a unified voice to our politicians and our fellow citizens. I can’t keep up with all the legisaltion which may impact our business, but Mutual covers that for me and that allows me to concentrate on what I do best.