Interest in lemon production is increasing among Florida’s citrus producers. This was evident by the strong turnout of growers who attended a lemon workshop at the Citrus Research and Education Center on Sept. 11. Approximately 80 growers and industry members attended the event, hosted by University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Polk County Extension.
George Hamner Jr., president of Indian River Exchange Packers and East Coast Packinghouse was one of the speakers. He addressed the topic of lemon marketing in Florida, but began his presentation with an overview of the world’s lemon market. According to statistics Hamner shared, Mexico is the world’s largest producer of lemons, while the United States (primarily California and Arizona) ranks fourth in production. Lemon imports are increasing in the United States, where lemons currently rank as the seventh most purchased fruit.
Hamner stressed that the key to selling fresh lemons in Florida is the appearance of the fruit. He explained that fruit blemishes and scarring are more common in Florida’s tropically grown lemons than those produced in desert environments, which makes the fruit harder to market.
“You have to handle them very tenderly, which starts in the field with harvesting as well as in the packinghouse to avoid oil spotting and black tips,” two conditions that render the fruit unmarketable for fresh sales, said Hamner.
For fresh production, Hamner reported he has seen the most success with the Eureka variety on sour orange rootstock. He said completely dry conditions are required to harvest lemons, and they must be clipped and gently dumped in bins. Other challenges of lemon production include thorny branches and a high cost of handling compared to other citrus varieties.
Hamner also discussed the short marketing window for Florida lemons. “The window of opportunity starts in the middle of July and ends about the first of October … We deal with a very tight window that is the end of the California market before the Arizona market begins,” he said. “Today, it’s even tighter because we have Chile and Argentina in July and August. We have Mexico in the end of July all the way through November. So we have to fit into a very tight niche for sales.”
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