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Well-Known Tulare County Orange Packer Quits

August 3,2107-

Lo Bue Bros Selling 3rd-Generation Family Operation

Korean-American Buyers Plan To Boost Exports

LoBue Bros are selling their Tulare County orange groves and packing operation in Lindsay as they exit the citrus business after more than 83 years.

President of the company Phil LoBue says the buyer is M Park Inc of Orange Cove, who is in escrow on the purchase, expected to close in September.

At a dinner for growers announcing the sale, the LoBues offered that they felt good selling their business to a fellow immigrant family, like their own which is based on their Sicilian heritage but in this case – a Korean family, father and son team, Alex and Daniel Kim. The Kims go by the M Park name from a previous business venture in Korea Town in LA – running a movie house.

Unlike most of the big players in the modern corporate citrus world, the family roots in the produce business, including in this case both the buyer and the seller – still hold strong.

Screen Shot 2017-08-02 at 4.19.11 PM

The Lobue operation owns just under 1000 acres of citrus and contracts with growers with a significant volume in addition. The family was lauded this week at the dinner/ meeting with growers and other attendees including the Kims, wishing them a relaxed well-deserved retirement.

The M Park team hope many of these contract growers will stay with the new packing operation and reports so far, appear to be positive on this, based on their reputation.

Caption: Lobue clan: L/R Fred,Joe,Phil,Robert

LoBue Bros filed a state WARN notice this month saying 98 existing employees of the company will be laid off in late September.

Daniel Kim, a Korean born,UC San Diego economics grad says he and his father are partners in their Orange Cove citrus operation that they bought and have been growing since 2008 – now managing their own 670 acres.

Daniel says ”the real value of the LoBue purchase is the volume” of all the contracted growers.

“We have the market in Korea but we need the volume” to do well, he says.

The father-son team have the familiarity and contacts, as well as market access in Korea and are exporting about 70% of their current crop to their native country, a much higher volume than most US growers who would love to sell that high percentage overseas.

LoBue History

Fred Lobue, the Chairman of the Board is now retired after growing up on a tractor on the family far, officially joining the company in 1962.

Current President Phil Lobue has run day to day operations since 1999. Phil is the son of co-founder Mario Lobue. Mario was the son of the pioneer founder – Phillip Lobue who came to the US from Sicily in 1914 and made a downpayment on a 40-acre orange grove near Lindsay in 1934, launching the dynasty.

With plans to retire in mind in the past year Phil Lobue says the family decided not to keep the groves because a “packing house  does not have the much value without the acreage to supply it.”

LoBue Bros sold their Exeter packing house earlier this year to Exeter-Ivanhoe Citrus Assn.

The M Park team apparently impressed growers attending the meeting as the Kims expressed optimism that navel oranges still have a bright future – particularly in the Pacific Rim export region.

The export market is the most important market for citrus agrees Phil Lobue. ”We expect exports could account for a steady 50% of  California sales going forward” says Lobue. That would be a good thing for the citrus industry, he adds.

California Navel Orange Future Bright ?

Daniel Kim explains that the idea that the era of navels is over is not accurate.”With farmers pulling 12,000 acres of navels in the past couple of years – mostly due to the drought- we think navels are coming back.”

The same thing happened with valencia oranges, says Kim – a  continued large reduction in trees until now – to the point “the market is pretty good” citing $200 a bin price this summer, for an example.

Kim say while US consumers are crazy for the new mandarin varieties – prospects in Asia are not as great in part because this fruit does not ship well. Also in Korea there is large mandarin tree fruit industry that is protected by the government.

Kim adds that Florida and Brazil’s problems also impact California.

The die-off of trees from citrus greening in those two major competitors, just gets worse and worse.

”In 5 or 6 year Florida’s citrus industry will be just about gone” he figures.

This year California’s citrus volume will overtake Florida for the first time ever.

Kim says the company plans to interview all new employees who are invited to apply for jobs at the Lindsay operation once the deal is finalized.

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