Florida Citrus Logo

A version of this column originally appeared in Growing Produce. Doug Ackerman served as FDOC executive director from 2011 through July 2015.

I am a proud veteran of the U.S. Army, but my inspiration for this column comes from a story in which the Navy plays a prominent role. That should give you some insight into how important I think this story is.

The headline is inspired by the legendary World War II aviator, Lt. Colonel James H. Doolittle, who famously told his band of volunteers as they prepared for departure on a daredevil mission, “It’s going to be a pretty tight squeeze…”

As the No. 1 fan of Florida citrus, I perk up any time I hear the word “squeeze,” because, along with words like “plant” and “grow” and “pick” and “sell” and “drink,” it is one of the verbs that defines our industry. But Doolittle’s vision has even more relevance for our industry than his invocation of one of our favorite words.

In spring 1942, as the nation reeled from the tragedy of Pearl Harbor, Doolittle was tasked with leading a daring raid on Tokyo, utilizing B-25s — medium-range bombers designed for the Army’s ground-to-ground missions. Doolittle’s mission, however, would require his team of courageous airmen to launch their attacks from the deck of the Hornet, a U.S. Navy carrier.

He trained his team, “Doolittle’s Raiders,” right here in Florida, at Eglin Field.

In order to enable the Raiders’ heavy, powerful aircraft to take off from such an ocean runway, Doolittle directed that everything non-essential be stripped away from the aircraft. He knew the planes would need more than 1,000 pounds of fuel and 2,000 pounds of bombs for the mission; any excess weight was an impediment to getting airborne from the Hornet’s short runways.

And, in one of the more dramatic moments of a war filled with them, at the last minute, the mission was forced to launch from a distance almost twice as far from the target as originally planned. Thus, every pound of fuel was even more precious. There were no “creature comforts” on those stripped-down bombers as they commenced their journeys toward Tokyo on April 18, 1942 — the original “tight squeeze.”

Epic Struggle

Today, the Florida citrus industry is engaged in its own epic struggle. We were surprised not by enemy bombers, but also by another sort of destruction that arrived via airborne transmission.

Like our nation in 1942, we are down, but we are not out.

As surely as Doolittle and his men knew that success was the only option, the Florida Department of Citrus, mirroring the resolve of growers across our great state, plans on winning this fight.

To get where we need to go, we — like Doolittle’s Raiders and the very industry we serve — must remain focused on essentials.

In the months to come, you will see continued evidence we are stripping away everything that isn’t mission-critical as we add fuel and firepower. Put another way: Programs that made sense when we were selling 240 million boxes may not make sense now.

The rest of Doolittle’s quote is perfect for our time. “It’s going to be a pretty tight squeeze,” he said, “But it’s all been worked out the best possible way.”

Plans For The Long Haul

Our priorities are clear. We know where we have to get, and we are loading up for the long haul — and for victory.
In the months ahead, I look forward to sharing details of the steps we are taking at the direction of the Florida Citrus Commission to be the best possible stewards of our industry’s legacy and to add the next exciting chapter.
Among the changes you’ll notice are:

We have a long way to go, but we have the pilots and the planes to get there.