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Florida Classic Growers in Lake Hamilton, FL, made it through multiple nights of freezing weather in December and early January in good shape and is ready to roll straight from a "tremendous" first half of the season into the second.

"We seem to have fared very well through those cold nights in December," Al Finch, vice president of sales and marketing of the company which was formerly known as Diversified Citrus Marketing, told The Produce News in mid-January. "We had a tremendous first half of the season. We had good volume, good arrivals; the demand was very good for Florida citrus, for Sunburst tangerines and Navels."

Florida Classic's growers had a large enough crop of navels and Sunbursts to actually "stretch that season into January," Mr. Finch said. Mid-month, the transition to Honey tangerines, Temples and other mid-season oranges began.

Volume is down slightly on the Honeys, but in a year when citrus sizes have been small across-the-board, that variety has proved a puzzling exception, coming on larger than normal.

"There's good size on the Honey tangerines we're seeing -- they're peaking on 120s right now," Mr. Finch said. "But it is a shorter crop, and we anticipate to have them through the month of March and finish up early April. Our Temple orange variety, that's kind of a niche item; we're promoting it in three-pound bags available through mid-February. We're going to continue with our mid-season oranges and transition toward the end of February into the Valencia orange. We look to carry that all the way through June, and we also do a storage program on Valencias, which we'll have available through the month of July and possibly into the early weeks of August."

Florida Classic's ambitious storage program could give it an edge in the summer citrus market, Mr. Finch said. "I think the retailer, the chainstores, will continue to push that Florida product, especially with the high prices on offshore citrus."

Red grapefruit has come on strong, and "we should have volume enough to go into April on that," Mr. Finch said.

"We're continuing our gift-fruit program, which has taken off this year. We had another good year of fundraising programs. So we're just keeping the pace going and hoping we don't get any more cold weather," he added. "It's been a good year so far. We're hopefully looking forward to milder temperatures. We've had a good season, and our message is we want to continue with a strong second half. We've been blessed. We've been pretty busy."

Florida Classic Growers is a sales and marketing agency representing Dundee Citrus Growers Association, Lake Wales Citrus Growers Association, Winter Haven Citrus Growers Association and Lake Region Packing Association. The organization was founded in 2001 but represents some of Florida's older and better known citrus cooperatives.