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Author Topic: Georgia Citrus Seeking to Make Its Mark  (Read 1073 times)

A.T. Hagan

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Georgia Citrus Seeking to Make Its Mark
« on: October 30, 2017, 02:41:59 PM »

Dr. Wayne Hanna of the University of Georgia addresses an interested crowd on a grove tour during a recent Georgia Citrus Association meeting.
Photo courtesy of the Georgia Citrus Growers Association

Most of us in Florida are not accustomed to thinking of Georgia as a citrus-producing state. Though there has long been a smattering of homeowner and niche-market Satsuma plantings, they were not what one would consider commercial enterprises. Things might be changing.

Over the past few years, citrus production meetings were held in the North Florida border counties of Jackson and Gadsden, as well as Perry, FL, and Auburn, AL. Each of these areas have been seriously exploring the possibility of commercial citrus production. Most recently, and certainly most notably, was a meeting in February of the newly formed Georgia Citrus Association (GCA). Though the association was just born in October, it now boasts 81 member companies and attracted 278 people to its inaugural meeting at the University of Georgia Tifton campus.

Membership includes nine companies from Florida (several farms straddle the border), and a couple from Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina. Meeting attendees represented most states in the Southeast.

Are You Serious?

While reading this article, some Florida farmers and nursery growers are likely questioning the sanity of such endeavors and are wondering what is driving interest in such a drastic shift in the perceived northern range of domestic citrus production. Conversations in Tifton indicated this newfound interest is based on several factors:

    Average temperatures in these regions not hitting the extreme lows that were once commonplac
    Better freeze protection techniques
    Interest in seizing upon declining production further south, and the hope that Asian citrus psyllid pressure will remain low in their areas
    Newly released varieties that appear to offer superior cold weather performance
    A hot market for soft citrus

Perhaps one of the most surprising gleanings from the Tifton meeting is that interest is not limited to border counties. Interest in Georgia appears to be statewide. Lindy Savelle, GCA President, informed us that she has had calls from interested growers in Northwest Georgia and counties west of Atlanta, well above the old “Gnat Line.”

To date, there has been widespread support from Florida in helping along the new northern production area. Ralph Howells spoke at the recent meeting about marketing. Travis Murphy spoke about production and freeze protection, and Billy Murphy and Phillip Rucks were there to answer questions related to nursery issues.

So, What Are They Planting?

Most of the interest remains focused on Satsuma and Satsuma-like varieties. There is somewhat of an established market for this type of soft citrus fruit and the cold hardiness of these varieties has been well documented (especially on trifoliate rootstocks). Dr. Wayne Hanna, University of Georgia, recently released several interesting varieties that have been exclusively licensed in Georgia to 1 Dog Ventures, the only all-citrus nursery in Georgia. Dr. Hanna, himself a citrus enthusiast, set out to reduce the seeds in selections that had shown tremendous resilience in the face of minimal care and cold temperatures.

    ‘Sweet Frost’ is an irradiated Changsha mandarin with two to three seeds per fruit. It has a Brix range of 11-12, it is very easy peel, well-colored, and matures (in GA) in November or December.
    ‘Grand Frost’ is an irradiated Ichang lemon. This is a large lemon (25 centimeters to 28 cm in circumference) with about 8 Brix and high juice content. It has nice, bright-yellow color and a maturity range of November through January.
    ‘Pink Frost’ is a red grapefruit, with characteristics not dissimilar to ‘Ruby Red,’ but with somewhat deeper color. It averages 30 cm to 35 cm in circumference, has Brix 8-11, and matures (in GA) November through March. It averages three seeds per fruit. This variety was identified in Georgia. It was a high seed fruit, with approximately 60 seeds before being irradiated.

Dr. Hanna noted that the non-irradiated versions of these varieties each took 0F in the 1985 freeze with no irrigation. The trees were 10 years old at the time. Post-freeze, the lemon lost 18 inches of limbs and the tangerine lost 12 inches. The two- to four-year-old trees presently in the field survived 18F with some young leaf discoloration during the 2014 freeze. Again, this was with no freeze protection. The varieties have not been (legitimately) introduced into Florida, but there may be interest in doing so.

Presidential Perspective

Georgia Citrus Association President Lindy Savelle recently expanded on some questions I had related to Georgia citrus production and the new association.

Q: There was talk about whether Georgia should become a citrus producing state. It would seem this would provide some regulatory protections for your growers, but also perhaps some restrictions of plant/fruit movement. Can you provide a pro/con on this? Does the Association have a position on this?

A: Putting rules and regulations in place in our state is imperative. We need to keep Georgia citrus as clean as we can, to prevent losses like those that other citrus states have suffered.  Many people do not like rules because they believe rules limit them, but in the case of the citrus industry, putting rules in place will protect them. Rules and regulations will mean that trees cannot come into Georgia without first, originating from a certified nursery, and second, being inspected by Georgia Department of Agriculture. This also could mean that backyard propagation will be non-existent here. Again, such rules may upset some folks, but they need to understand this is to protect the industry at the commercial level.  The association is working with Georgia Department of Agriculture to quickly develop the rules and then it will be up to the association to educate its membership. We know it will be no easy task, but we also know if we do not start out with parameters, our industry will potentially fail before it barely gets off the ground.

Q: Which varieties, other than Dr. Hanna’s, are being planted in Georgia?

A: People will be planting the UGA tangerines, lemons, and grapefruit in 2018, although, we have a handful of them going out the door this year. Because we (1 DOG Ventures LLC) have the exclusive rights to grow the UGA fruit, we are increasing our stock to meet what we believe will be an unbelievable demand next year, not only by homeowners, but also commercial growers. Right now, growers are focusing primarily on satsumas, but they are starting to understand they need to diversify. There are a few lemons, grapefruit, lime, and navels going in this year, but we fully expect those numbers to exponentially expand next year. We also are increasing our stock in these varieties as well.

Q: Do you see any synergistic opportunities between Florida (growing in the primary production areas) and Georgia producers, or would the two states/areas be competitors?

A: The two states would not be competitors. We have welcomed growers from outside Georgia to come be a part of us, to join us and become involved as we grow together. Growers in Northwest Florida are forming a cold hardy association, which will greatly assist GA growers as much as Florida growers. We have agribusinesses that support growers from both states, such as a juicing facility and packing facilities. We complement, not compete.  The more we grow the industry to a commercial level, the better we both will be.

Q: Are any fresh packing facilities being built in Georgia? If so, do you know which counties and the capacity?

A: A few produce growers have branched out and are growing citrus. They will be using those same facilities to process fresh fruit. We fully expect other facilities to pop up throughout the state as fruit starts to roll in down the road. The only facility I know that is currently being discussed is one in Mitchell County (where I’m from). The facility will accommodate the growers in Mitchell, Northern Thomas, Grady, Baker, Colquitt, and Dougherty counties. Initially, the acreage of fruit will be around 100 acres and is expected to grow well beyond that capacity down the road. The site being reviewed will handle fruit much larger than that produced on 100 acres alone.

Q: How many trees will be planted in Georgia over the next three years?

A: There are currently 142 acres accounted for in Georgia. That will more than double in 2017 and the figures beyond that are expected to exponentially grow. People worry about marketing all the fruit in four years, but we’ve got to think outside the box and realize the market reaches far beyond the borders of our state, and certainly far beyond the school systems. We’ve got the leadership in our state to support the growth of the citrus industry, so we need to rely on them to help us develop it.

« Last Edit: October 30, 2017, 03:01:10 PM by A.T. Hagan »


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Re: Georgia Citrus Seeking to Make Its Mark
« Reply #1 on: October 30, 2017, 09:42:23 PM »
I bet we'll hear more about this at the Southeast Citrus Expo in Savannah this year.


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Re: Georgia Citrus Seeking to Make Its Mark
« Reply #2 on: October 30, 2017, 09:54:27 PM »
"Average temperatures in these regions not hitting the extreme lows that were once commonplace"

A global warming success story!   :P


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Re: Georgia Citrus Seeking to Make Its Mark
« Reply #3 on: October 31, 2017, 12:02:46 AM »
Thanks for the post.  It was very interesting.


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