University of Georgia (UGA) plant breeder Wayne Hanna released three seedless citrus trees in 2016. All carry the brand name “Frost” to identify them as UGA products. There is a tangerine (Sweet Frost), a lemon (Grand Frost) and a grapefruit (Pink Frost). Earlier this year, the trio became a quartet with the addition of a navel orange (Southern Frost).
Hanna says that the Frost line of citrus trees is aimed at homeowners. But it isn’t the only line of fruit being grown by Georgia’s citrus-producing community, which has grown exponentially in the last decade.
When a group of South Georgia and North Florida growers, scientists and others met in 2013 to discuss the possibility of growing citrus in the region, the satsuma mandarin came up frequently during conversations. Satsumas, which are smaller than navel oranges, are cold-tolerant to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. They are also easy to peel and seedless, which makes them popular for school lunches. So when school districts learned about local satsuma production, they were among the first customers.
Many prospective growers started planting satsumas. One was John Crawford, who planted 100 satsuma trees in 2013. They proved so successful that he planted 100 more trees in each of the next four years. He now has 500 satsuma trees covering 5 acres in Ocilla.
Jake Price, the Lowndes County UGA Cooperative Extension coordinator, was the organizer of the 2013 meeting of people interested in growing citrus. In 2016, he held a program about forming a citrus association. That meeting inspired Mitchell County farmer Lindy Savelle to start the Georgia Citrus Association (GCA), which held its first annual meeting in February 2017 with 270 in attendance.
In 2013, there were about 4,500 commercial citrus trees in the state. Now there are more than 390,000 covering about 2,700 acres in 45 Georgia counties. Satsumas make up around 85% of that. “It’s just my passion,” says Savelle, who is the GCA president. Her own nursery, Georgia Grown Citrus, sells trees to commercial farmers. Savelle describes the growth of Georgia’s citrus industry as a line that’s pointed straight up.
“The acreage had gone up exponentially for several years until last year when the growth rate slowed down a bit,” Price says. “It may be a good idea to see if the market can handle what is currently planted and what will happen with citrus greening, but it’s up to individuals. There is a lot of interest in citrus. I still get calls every day. It’s exciting.”
Source: University of Georgia Cooperative Extension
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