Lemon grower Mike Litvany shares his experience growing lemons for the past 20 years in North Central Florida. Litvany has been in the Florida citrus industry since 1975. He says, “What happened to the Florida citrus industry has happened to me; it’s all pretty much disappeared.” His 20-acre lemon grove is 7 miles south of Clermont, east of U.S. 27 and west of Avalon Road.
Litvany says he started growing lemons in 1998 when he learned a nursery in Apopka was throwing away lemon tree rooted cuttings. He obtained a pickup truck load and planted them on former citrus land. They grew well with a dense, fibrous root system.
“You name a citrus fungus disease and the lemons will have it … everything but alternaria,” Litvany says. “It appears that every tree in the grove is infected with HLB; however, they are vigorous enough to just seem to outgrow the disease.”
Litvany says the biggest threat to lemons is subfreezing weather. He says there were probably about 7,000 or 8,000 acres of lemons in Florida in the late 1970s, but that freezes in 1977, 1981, 1982, 1983 and 1985 decimated them. Only a small amount were left when he planted his grove in 1998, he says.
In recent years, several orange, grapefruit and tangerine growers have planted lemons. “The renewed interest, I think, is because of their apparent tolerance or resistance to HLB, or their ability to outgrow it, whichever it is,” says Litvany.
Litvany addresses marketing of lemons in Florida. “Right now, there is nobody extracting lemon oil, which is really sort of the holy grail for growing lemons,” he says. “The oil is worth more than the juice.” For several years, he has sold his juice to Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice Company in Fort Pierce.
Litvany says his lemon grove “has been busted to the ground twice by freeze since 1998.” This year, in the wake of damage inflicted by Hurricane Irma in September, “we’re probably going to better than break even,” the grower says. “Next year, barring further disasters or a freeze, it should be quite profitable.” According to Litvany, his grove has been profitable over the long term, “and it’s a lot of fun, too.”
There are probably only about 100,000 acres of lemons worldwide, Litvany says. “So, the next 10,000 acres is going to affect the market,” he says. “I think lemons are going to be a good, steady way to hold land into the future.”
Litvany shared his lemon experiences at a recent alternative crops seminar hosted by Extension agent Juanita Popenoe in Tavares, Florida.
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