Opportunities for Georgia citrus growers continue to rise as interest and research in the industry increase. Many stakeholders and industry leaders are pleased about the progress that has been made so far, but they are even more excited about what there is to come.
“The industry basically started from nothing, so there was and still is a lot of potential for growth,” said Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black. “A majority of the growth to this point has been behind the scenes with research and networking to broaden the market. Thanks to a combination of the extensive research to cultivate the right variety of citrus for Georgia’s climate, Georgia’s wealth of natural resources, and the growers’ efforts to organize the industry through the association, we believe that the citrus industry in Georgia is poised for exponential growth for years to come.”
According to Black, the Georgia Citrus Association has helped to create and continues to impact the industry. “The Georgia Citrus Association has done a wonderful job establishing a good solid foundation for the industry, and we are looking forward to the progression of the crop and industry in the coming years,” he said. “The opportunities are certainly there, and we are proud of the work done by the Georgia Citrus Association to develop and grow a crop with such potential for our state.”
Lindy Savelle, president of the Georgia Citrus Association, said she is optimistic and excited about the state’s citrus industry. Savelle began growing satsumas in Georgia in 2016. She has a 200-tree test plot and is a partner in a citrus tree nursery.
Being involved in the nursery has helped Savelle introduce potential growers to the industry. “I take them out to that test plot and kind of walk them through the A to Z of what we experience as a grower,” she said. This helps them gain a full understanding of what goes into growing citrus. “You’ve got to take care of the trees … work, study and know what to expect,” she explained.
Savelle said she and other growers have taken the advice of Florida citrus growers to diversify their crops. While satsumas are the primary type of citrus grown in Georgia, other options are also available. These include a tangerine, grapefruit and lemon released by the University of Georgia (UGA) in November of 2016, creating new opportunities for growers.
Grapefruits, lemons, limes, navels, satsumas and tangerines can all be grown in Georgia, according to Savelle. “There’s a number of people that are diversifying so that we don’t have just satsumas,” she said.
Savelle, who grows citrus in Mitchell and Thomas counties, said the freeze in January 2018 was difficult for Georgia citrus crops. However, freeze protection was used and she estimates most of the crops have survived and are going to successfully continue to grow. She reports that the least cold-hardy citrus varieties were limes and lemons, as was predicted prior to the season.
Jake Price, UGA Extension coordinator and agricultural and natural resource agent in Lowndes County, said he does not think the freezes faced in early 2018 will have much of a negative effect. However, he said weather issues, including a late freeze following a mild winter, led to production issues in the 2017 season.
Price said Georgia citrus trees, found in about 25 counties, should fare well for the 2018 season. “From what I’ve heard, most of the people seem to be coming through this cold weather okay … so far, so good,” he said.
Wayne Hanna, a UGA professor and researcher, said that currently the university is examining new and improved cold-tolerant citrus varieties, including a tangerine and a navel orange. He said the navel orange has a high level of cold-tolerance and withstood 22 F during the winter.
BEYOND THE TREES
According to Savelle, most of Georgia’s citrus is grown in the southern part of the state and along the coastlines.
“The citrus industry in Georgia is kind of having a ripple effect; it’s not just about growing trees,” Savelle said. “You’ve got all these agribusinesses that are spinning off as a result of the industry.” Examples she cites of types of businesses that are forming due to growing interest in Georgia’s citrus industry are food byproducts such as jams, as well as irrigation companies.
Savelle said she herself is preparing to open an agritourism company for Georgia citrus. She believes it will allow those interested in growing citrus to get an inside look into how the Georgia citrus industry operates.
To help advocate for the industry, Savelle said she also does community outreach in the form of speaking to civic organizations and youth farming groups. “We’ve got a lot of growers spread out (in Georgia), but in order to make it to the commercial level, we’ve got to have more,” she said.
This initiative is to get more people — young and old — involved in Georgia’s burgeoning citrus business. Savelle said the industry doubled last year. “We fully expect it to double again this year, so that’s pretty exciting,” she said.
The Georgia citrus industry began to gain popularity in 2013, said Price. Now, in 2018, he said he receives daily calls with questions regarding the industry. “The interest has not slowed down at all,” he said.
“We have about 42,000 to 43,000 trees planted,” Price said, as of spring 2017, in the state. He estimates that about 95 percent of trees planted are satsumas.
Jaci Schreckengost is a former multimedia journalist with AgNet Media, Inc. in Gainesville, Florida.
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