128 www. bus- ex. com JANUARY 10 improve quality. If we can figure out a way to save water or handle fruit easier, we make those investments each year as we go." Shortly after starting operations, Southern Gardens made perhaps its biggest innovative leap of all. Recognizing that the higher quality of NFC juice would be a hit with consumers, it converted the plant from concentrate to NFC almost immediately. " We were one of the first in the industry to move to NFC, and today this is the norm," Kress says. " We knew that marketers were going to move in that direction." A major key to the successful move to NFC juice was the construction of aseptic storage tanks, which enabled the company to keep the juice cold and sterile without freezing, which in turn optimizes quality, he explains. Southern Gardens achieved another innovative breakthrough in collaboration with its transport suppliers, using liquid nitrogen to keep juice at a constant temperature in the tanker, irrespective of the outside temperature or distance traveled, Kress says. This breakthrough enables Southern Gardens to extend its markets as far as California, a three- or four- day drive. Currently, the company is developing disease- free trees in its nursery, one of the few in Florida that is compliant with the latest state agriculture regulations, Kress adds. The nursery may be expanded, he says, and whatever happens to the Everglades plan, Southern Gardens will still remain a major supplier of citrus trees to the Florida industry. Southern Gardens has also demonstrated its leadership of the industry with its strong record on the environment. " Nothing leaves the plant as waste," Kress says. " Any water we generate or use in our processes is reused multiple times and then diverted to irrigate our groves." In addition to its protection of the environment, Southern Gardens has set an industry example in its continuous grove inspections and quick uprooting of diseased trees. It has conducted its own research and collaborated with state and university scientists in seeking tools to combat first canker and now the greening disease that kills citrus trees. The first two field trials of the company's internal disease research work, as approved by the USDA, have been planted in the company groves. These trees are resistant to canker and greening in the lab; planting in a commercial environment will confirm resistance. Jackie Burns, interim director of the Citrus Research and Education Center at the University of Florida, says Southern Gardens has been a " pioneer in tackling important issues in the citrus industry" and a " role model" in its rapid removal of diseased fruit- bearing trees, even at the cost of crop revenues. " They are very forward- thinking and do whatever needs to be done," Burns says. " We'll always be a friend and a partner with Southern Gardens and the people who run it." Southern Gardens' processing plant remains one of the most efficient in the world and has topped global rankings for 12 of the last 14 years, according to Donn Sabato, US sales and service manager for JBT FoodTech Citrus Systems, which leases juice extractors to Southern Gardens and other citrus processors. " Customers pay per box, so their productivity is easy to measure," Sabato says. " Southern Gardens is one of the most automated and efficient plants in the world. And they have a great team." Not stopping its quest for further efficiencies, Southern Gardens embarked on a conversion to SAP ERP software in 2008 to optimize operations and lower costs. Dick DeFazio, CEO of Performance Consulting Associates, says his firm helped Southern Gardens with its SAP
Southern Gardens Citrus JANUARY 10 www. bus- ex. com 129 As for the future, Southern Gardens is continuing to explore new initiatives, such as developing aseptic pulp that could expand markets to China and India and working with John Deere and Carnegie Mellon to design a driverless tractor that would enable the company to operate 24 hours per day in the groves. Additional mechanization of harvesting methods is also being explored, as is a possible switch from trucks to rail transport, Kress says. Optimistic about the future, Kress says Southern Gardens' vertical integration, which extends from growers to its own processing plant and its network of distributors and manufacturers, sets the company apart from its competitors and lays the groundwork for the years ahead. " We're known for high quality and customer service," Kress says. " And it all comes down to the commitment and strength of our management team and all our employees." conversion, redesigning storerooms and spare parts repositories and improving preventive and predictive maintenance procedures in the process. " Southern Gardens did very well" in implementing SAP models and taking ownership of the change process, DeFazio says. Everglades Farm Equipment Co., Inc. offers a full line of GreenStar products to help you learn from yesterday, get more done today, and prepare for a more productive and profitable tomorrow. No matter where you farm, what you grow, or the size of your operation, our integrated GreenStar products help you save time, money and costly inputs, year after year. Everglades Farm Equipment Co.