By Ernie Neff
Georgia’s fledgling citrus industry recently formed the state’s first citrus association with a retired federal law enforcement agent leading the way.
“We are pioneers in this,” says Lindy Savelle, president of the Georgia Citrus Association (GCA).
Indeed they are pioneers. Extension agent Jake Price for Lowndes County, Georgia, reports that about 40 growers had 150 citrus acres in 21 Georgia counties in 2016, up from just 30 acres in 2014.
“It’s not many (growers or acres) at all, but we anticipate that that’s going to exponentially multiply,” Savelle says. “We want to promote the citrus industry in Georgia and surrounding states.”
The new association has about 30 members, including citrus growers and nurserymen from south Georgia, north Florida and south Alabama. Other members are vendors to that geographic region, growers and vendors outside the region, and honorary members including researchers.
Goals are to progress the region’s citrus industry through education, research and aggressive marketing, and to ensure quality standards so consumers get only good fruit. The association plans to kick off its marketing effort by having a booth at the early-January Southeast Regional Fruit & Vegetable Conference in Savannah. The association will not have a paid staff, but will be operated by board members and other volunteers.
The association springs from a 2013 meeting in the Lowndes County Extension office to explore the possibility of growing cold-hardy satsuma mandarins in the region. Savelle says growers and others met again in October to discuss the possibility of forming an association and moved more quickly than she expected. They agreed to form the GCA, elected board members and chose Savelle as president.
“We basically had a meeting at the Lowndes Extension office about forming an association, and Lindy jumped all over it and got the job done,” Price says.
LAW ENFORCEMENT TO CITRUS
South Georgia native Savelle left home for a career working for federal law enforcement agencies. She became an FBI agent in 1985 and wound up serving as an investigator for the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). SIGAR is a congressionally mandated agency that investigates corruption; Savelle led an investigative team in that war-torn country.
But Savelle and her husband, Perry, wanted to return to their roots in south Georgia and give back to agriculture, and did so when she retired. She says she “investigated” what to farm and settled on citrus. “Satsumas grow very well in north Florida and south Georgia,” she explains. The couple started a 5-acre citrus grove, heavy on satsumas.
Savelle also teamed with her brother, Clay, to form 1 DOG Ventures citrus greenhouse and nursery in south Georgia’s Sale City. “We retrofitted an old tobacco warehouse as a citrus nursery,” she says. The nursery opened in February and has sold a few trees; about 40,000 should be ready for delivery in 2017. The nursery has satsumas, limes, seedless lemon, seedless tangerine and seedless grapefruit. It obtained the contract to grow recently released University of Georgia seedless citrus varieties.
Currently, the Georgia citrus industry is primarily satsumas and lemons, and the fruit is marketed fresh.
HLB IN GEORGIA
There are only limited detections in Georgia of HLB, the disease spread by Asian citrus psyllids that has wreaked havoc in Florida citrus groves. Extension agent Price reports that HLB was confirmed in one tree in Savannah in 2008, and was found in homeowner trees in two Camden County cities in the summer of 2016. “There is a need for a survey to look for HLB and Asian citrus psyllids in the southern half of Georgia,” Price says.
“We hope it’s too cold” for psyllids and HLB in the south Georgia citrus-growing areas, Savelle says.
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