(June 8) FORT PIERCE, Fla. — Despite the many problems affecting Florida citrus, one Indian River region grower-shipper is packing volume late in the season.

This season, Minton Sun Inc. expects to pack 1.1 million 4/5-bushel box equivalents.

The fresh packer in early June topped the 1 million box mark, something it’s done only once since 2001, said Jeffrey Minton, general manager, who has no relation to the company’s owners.

“We’re having one of our biggest years,” he said. “We’re having this strong year because we’re able to pack so many different citrus varieties.”

One of the few packers that continues packing citrus in June at the end of Florida’s season, Minton Sun planned to pack valencias through June 15 and red grapefruit through June 30. Last year, Minton Sun finished July 1.

Indian River region packers normally finish packing volume in early May.

Late-season valencias help Minton Sun run later than most other Indian River packinghouses.

Though it’s located in the world’s leading grapefruit producing region, where most of the packinghouses are dedicated to grapefruit, Minton Sun has found success through other types of citrus.

2002 TRANSITION

The third-generation family-owned packinghouse in 2002 began transitioning itself from packing primarily grapefruit for export to Japan to mainly oranges and tangerines for domestic customers, said John Minton, president.

“It’s so hard to source grapefruit, and it’s so expensive,” he said. “With all the canker and hurricanes and everything else, it’s been awful hard to get that much fruit together anymore. The oranges are a lot easier to find.”

Minton Sun, which packs under its Sweet Taste of Florida and Royal Crown labels, bought a crop of grapefruit June 5 from an Avon Park grower. Minton Sun finished running its Arcadia-grown grapefruit June 6.

“It’s not so much the f.o.b.s in fruit, but the late-season movement is better,” John Minton said. “Everything we’re packing is moving right out the door. It’s been sort of fun to be able to make a profit at this again.”

Grapefruit accounts for 30% to 40% of Minton Sun’s packinghouse volume, John Minton said.

Minton Sun sources most of its grapefruit, valencias, navels, tangerines, tangelos and honey tangerines from two dozen growers from throughout Florida. Minton Sun also owns 1,200 acres of groves in Marin, St. Lucie, Okeechobee, DeSoto and Manatee counties.

INCREASED CAPABILITY

The packinghouse, founded in 1963, added a bagging line this season. The machinery, which replaces hand bagging, has helped Minton Sun increase its packing shed’s efficiency by 10%. The equipment also allows the line to run more fruit per hour, John Minton said.

The addition allows Minton Sun to pack bags of 3 to 8 pounds. Most of the oranges are shipped in the 3- to 5-pound bags.

The company bought the bagging system from the defunct Sun Valley of the River Inc., Fort Pierce.

Minton Sun has also added a color dye tank to brighten its oranges, hybrids and tangerines. The company installed the tank to better compete with interior Florida packinghouses that color their fruit, John Minton said.

Since 2003, Minton Sun, which was formerly a member of the Seald Sweet LLC cooperative during the 1980s, has had its fruit marketed through Vero Beach-based DLF International Inc.