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Why San Diegans Don’t Buy San Diego Oranges


Aired 11/2/09

Oranges grown in San Diego County are considered some of the tastiest in the world. They’re sweet, with a hint of acid. But few San Diegans are eating them.

Video unavailable. Read transcript below.

Above: Even though local farmers produce tons of oranges a year, San Diego residents prefer oranges shipped from other parts of the world.

Oranges grown in San Diego County are considered some of the tastiest in the world. They’re sweet, with a hint of acid. But few San Diegans are eating them.

Many of the oranges picked from this grove in Escondido are actually eaten thousands of miles away. The first leg of the journey is a truck trip to a packing house like this one in Riverside where they’re sorted, washed, boxed and shipped out.

“They’ll go to Japan. They’ll go to Korea. They’ll go to India. They’ll go to Bangladesh," said John Demshky, president and CEO of the Corona College Heights packing house in Riverside. "They’ll go to China, Vietnam, Taiwan and Russia and a couple of places in the Middle East.”

“The color and taste of San Diego fruit is quite popular overseas so most of our San Diego fruit we send overseas.”

So if most of the nearly 95,000 tons of oranges grown each year in the county end up in foreign countries, whose oranges are we eating? Demshky said it depends on the season and how effort we’re willing to devote to eat an orange.

“The consumer has said long ago, they prefer a seedless orange. The only time of the year you can get a seedless orange is from the Southern Hemisphere so that would be Australia, Chile or South Africa," he said.

We also like our oranges to be easy to peel like the navels from Australia and, well, we like our oranges to be orange. Locally grown oranges have a thinner skin and a greenish tinge. Demshky said the color is merely cosmetic.

“It’s not an indication of the flavor of the orange at all," he said. “They’re sweet, juicy and an excellent orange.”

Seventy-nine-year-old Ben Hillibrecht has grown oranges in Escondido for most of his life. He said he wishes more San Diegans bought his fruit.

“You can’t make people eat them just because they’re grown here," he said. "I think they’re missing the boat but people they buy it with their eyes not the taste.”

Even though he says his oranges are tastier, he can’t compete with the imports so he exports his.

“We can’t put them into the market for the price they’re putting them into the market because their labor is cheaper and it rains there," Hillbrecht said. "It just puts us out of business. Unfortunately, it’s the truth and the problem we have is largely the price of water, probably even exceeds the issues of the price of labor.”

Eric Larson, who is executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau, said “Our water is imported here from great distances from the Colorado River or the Sacramento Delta and the price of water has been going up very rapidly but the price we receive the product has not correspondingly been raised. It’s been flat.”

That’s causing local growers to rethink their crops in an area that’s produced oranges for well over 100 years.

“I see citrus groves that have been abandoned. In other words, the water has been turned off," said Larson. "And so now the trees are becoming more skeletons of what they were. “

Larson said if more people bought local oranges, the trend could be reversed.

“When a farmer sells their fruits or vegetables in the traditional wholesale retail train of handling, the farmer gets about 19 cents of the food dollar, a very small amount, but if a farmer sells their food through a farmer’s market directly to the consumer, they’re getting 100 percent of the food dollar.”

Larson said San Diegans need to decide whether they even want produce grown here. If they do, they need to come to grips with paying more because of rising water prices.

“But if we’re not importing the water, then we’d be importing the fruit itself and there’s issues with carbon footprints that go a long with that as well,” he said.

The California Citrus Mutual trade group wants to know just how big of a carbon footprint is left by sending the oranges we grow overseas and importing the oranges we eat.

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Avatar for user 'jridg'

jridg | November 2, 2009 at 10:09 a.m. ― 7 years, 3 months ago

My wife and I belong to a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm. We receive weekly deliveries of locally grown, organic fruit and vegetables. Not only do we enjoy the flavors more, we eat more vegetables and we are "forced" to try new things. We have been members for over three months now and it's been a wonderful treat. By the way, we end up paying less for our produce this way and we support locally grown produce. Not to mention the reduced carbon footprint....

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Avatar for user 'Ondine'

Ondine | November 2, 2009 at 11:07 p.m. ― 7 years, 3 months ago

My husband, two young sons and I have been very happy with Garden of Eden Organics CSA. Like jridg above mentions, we get to try new things every week and it's all organic and local. We've received plenty of oranges in our box, plus hard-to-find treats like jujubes, dates and organic strawberries. We wondered if we would miss buying "whatever, whenever" at the conventional grocery, but we've found that eating seasonal fruits and veggies is more fun- it makes you appreciate and look forward to what's next. And it's fun to be surprised!

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Avatar for user 'AlsipMagistrate'

AlsipMagistrate | November 5, 2009 at 7:04 p.m. ― 7 years, 3 months ago

I have been involved at every level of marketing and sales for over 55 years and yet I am baffled by the math in the above article regarding San Diego area produced Oranges.
My understanding is that the Grower receives about 19% of the retail sales price for their San Diego Oranges, when they are sold in Foreign Markets.

The Foreign Market retail price has to be 5 times higher than what the Grower is paid. One of the mark-up costs, obviously has to be freight. The other burdens can either better or worse than in this domestic market.

Am I to conclude, that the demand (retail) price in the San Diego is such, that the Grower makes more money with a 19% Gross from Foreign Markets, than 100% Gross in the Domestic Market.

This would mean that if the Foreign Market retail price is $1.00 per Orange, the American (San Diego) Grower is receiving $.19 cents, and anything above that revenue would result in the Growner being over-priced, and non-competitive with the Imported Oranges from abroad, being able to be sold at a lower retail price in the Domestic (San Diego) Market.

I can't believe that the Retail Price for a San Diego Orange is 5 times higher when sold in a foreign market.

Why don't the Foreign Growers of Oranges, in the Countries mentioned as Foreign Competition, sell in the same markets overseas that the San Diego Growers compete in?

I also didn't think that manual labor (and the appropriate labor costs) was such a factor in the production,processing,and growing of Oranges.

I have no idea what the Labor Costs per ton of Oranges amounts to, and how that affects the cost of a single Orange, or a pound of Oranges, or however they are sold in a particular market.

It has been my experience, that Growers or Farmers, all seem to price all of their products at a higher price than they are being retailed for in Grocery Stores.

I would appreciate a more intelligent and informative article on this subject.

David A. Thorpe

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