By Loren Lindler
Citrus has become quite the fresh commodity in the state of Georgia. From fresh oranges to orange juice, the crop has brought about a lump sum of vitamin C to our diets and a great deal of diversity for Georgia farmers.
The state’s citrus industry is concentrated in rural Georgia – the growing area stretching from Cordele to the Florida line, and over to the coast. While citrus greening has devastated Florida’s industry over the past decade, it has not affected Georgia production. The region’s climate and conditions are ideal for growing citrus in the state, allowing for ample opportunities for Georgia producers.
Many farmers are finding that citrus trees are a new and exciting way to utilize a few acres of their land. Whether you have one acre of land or ten, citrus trees can be a great use for the spare acreage. As a commodity that require little space, you’re able to make the most of your acres by producing a greater yield on one acre of land compared to row crops. Once the trees are planted, it takes roughly three years to mature before producing fruit.
Of the citrus trees planted in the state, 85% of those are Satsumas. Satsumas are known for being sweet, seedless, and easy to peel. Other citrus varieties planted in the state include navels, grapefruits, and a handful of others. There are currently 42 counties in the state growing citrus. A few of the top producing counties include Thomas, Terrell, Lee, and Dougherty.
Though Georgia is not pegged as “the citrus state,” there are over 70 citrus farming operations in the state and it is estimated 300 acres are committed to growing citrus year-round. By the fall of 2023, the state is expected to produce 70 million pounds of fruit.
To assist in the growing industry, two packing sheds will be at work in south Georgia for growers to utilize. One is housed in Lake Park (Echols County) and the other is coming to Tifton (Tift County) and is expected to open later this year. The packing sheds will be equipped to package the citrus and distribute to grocery stores around the state.
Lindy Savelle, Georgia Citrus Association president and owner of Georgia Grown Citrus, has squeezed her efforts into growing the state’s citrus industry, literally. In her role with the Georgia Citrus Association, she is able to provide up-to-date information to growers while enabling members and communities to enjoy Georgia grown citrus.
After retiring from a federal law enforcement career, Savelle and her husband returned to their roots in Mitchell and Thomas counties where they own two small farms.
The couple planted a commercial citrus grove in Thomas County as well as a test plot in Mitchell County. They started in 2016 and the trees started producing in 2019.
Today, they are known for their fresh Satsuma oranges, seedless tangerines, lemons, grapefruit, navels, mandarins, blood oranges, thornless limes and kumquats. They sell their produce at JoNina Farm, their family farm near Ochlocknee. In addition to citrus production, Georgia Grown Citrus is a commercial tree nursery. They partner with four other nurseries to sell to commercial growers.
Georgia Grown Citrus specializes in helping others start their own citrus grove. If you’re a beginner, they offer a “Citrus Starter Kit” which includes everything you will need to grow a citrus tree in your backyard, sunroom, or deck. They have people coming from all over the state to purchase trees, or just to visit.
Their website features frequently asked questions, tips, and tricks for growing citrus on your own. There are videos to help with initial planning and planting, as well as tree maintenance.
“There is an opportunity to grow citrus,” said Savelle.
She also explained how many families are taking small farms and adding diversity to the land. Production does not require a great deal of equipment since the fruit is harvested by hand, so it’s a great option for someone with little land, or a family seeking a new adventure.
Savelle shared the impact the industry has on rural Georgia in addition to a tremendous agricultural economic impact. With farmers adding citrus production to their operations, the Lake Park packing shed hard at work, and the Tifton packing shed coming soon, there are ample opportunities for rural Georgia.
“Citrus is where blueberries were 20 years ago,” Savelle said. She sees smaller farms adding this as an option to add diversity to their farm, just as many had with blueberries.
Citrus is, indeed, taking root in rural Georgia, allowing us to enjoy that sweet Georgia grown fruit.
Check out the Georgia Grown locator to see where you can find your next bag of citrus!