When Lindy Savelle ended her career in federal law enforcement, including stints overseas, she and her husband decided to move back to land they owned in South Georgia. They researched different crops they might grow and settled on citrus. She tells her story in a recent Grower Talks Podcast produced by the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association.
“Citrus is that one commodity you can do as a family,” Savelle says, adding that it can be grown on a small scale and still be profitable. Additionally, citrus didn’t require a large capital investment. Big tractors and sprayers weren’t needed to start a small grove.
The Savelles, who had never been farmers, started with 1,000 trees around 2015, making them at the time one of the larger modern citrus growers in Georgia. She points out that an earlier citrus industry in Georgia was devastated by freezes in the 1980s.
Savelle and her husband learned much about growing citrus by trial and error. She says she’s not a citrus expert “but I can tell you what won’t work.” And she’s happy to share that information with others who are already growing citrus or interested in growing it.
When Savelle and other growers formed the Georgia Citrus Association in 2016, she was elected president. She said 27 people were at the formative meeting and more than 200 attended the first annual meeting five months later.
The Georgia citrus industry has undergone what Savelle calls an “exponential explosion” in the past six years. From 2,700 to 3,000 acres of citrus are grown in the state, with most owners having from 5 to 10 acres, she says.
Savelle reports that 80 to 85% of Georgia’s citrus is the “zipper-skinned” (easy-peeling) Satsuma mandarin. “We can grow sweeter fruit here,” she declares.
While the state’s fledgling citrus industry has grown rapidly, Savelle is realistic about future challenges. She says trees in Georgia will eventually get the HLB disease that devastated Florida’s citrus industry, and there will be “a major weather event” that will eliminate some trees and growers. Nonetheless, she says, “I still believe we’re going to continue to grow.”
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