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Apr 7, 2000 - Carolyn Billie, operations manager for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Inc., not only has a head for business but has a clear vision of what's needed in the future to keep tribal business profitable.

Early in the 1960s, the Tribe leased its Hendry County acreage to citrus growers. It wasn't until 1992 that a decision was made to take over the management of the groves. Up until this past year, the Tribe had depended on outside consultants for guidance in citrus management. But as the business grew, they were ready to be more independent.

Dale Rackley, a Risk Management Specialist in RMA's Regional Service Office in Valdosta, Georgia, played a key role in securing the outreach grant that would provide training funds for a new manager. Rackley said, "We have been working directly with Ms. Billie and other tribal members to help in their transition to independence."

Billie said, "Our lemon grove is now at 655 acres. We grow white and red grapefruit on additional acreage." But growing citrus in sunny Florida isn't without its perils. Billie adds, "Our most vulnerable time is during the late winter when the trees bloom. A frost at the wrong time can destroy the crop." Weather during last year's July, August, and September harvest wasn't so great either. A 30-minute hail storm damaged the fruit enough to change the usual fresh fruit sales to juice, dropping the crop value. Winds from Hurricane Irene took another swipe at the trees later in the season.

"Due to our close working relationship with the Tribe, we are coming to a better understanding of lemon production and were able to implement a lemon program in Hendry County," said Rackley. "Freeze damage to lemon blooms is a primary risk in early spring. Citrus crop insurance coverage doesn't begin until May 1, and if a freeze should damage lemon blooms, the producers could end up with an uninsurable loss. We're working to remedy this and other concerns."

The Tribe started buying catastrophic insurance three years back, but bad weather in 1999 resulted in their first-ever indemnity payment. "In 2000, we plan to buy 65 percent buy-up coverage," Billie said.

Hiring a grove manager and buying more crop insurance coverage aren't the only risk management strategies for the forward-thinking Tribe. "We are currently implementing a 4-year development plan that will include adding Valencia oranges to the variety of citrus that we grow," Billie added. "By diversifying our crops, we will spread the risk of loss from crops that may be more susceptible to certain hazards and, therefore, increase our potential for profit."