Citrus Industry Growing In Georgia
Think oranges and you probably think Florida. Now Georgia farmers are hoping to make you think again as a disease kills trees next door in the sunshine state and the citrus industry there struggles.
In 2016 Georgia had around 21,000 citrus trees. Now that number has more than doubled. Joe Franklin owns Franklin’s Citrus Farm in Statesboro. He planted 200 trees in 2010 and now he has 5,000 planted in fields that once grew corn, cotton and peanuts.
More cold tolerant varieties and better growing practices are making the industry more viable in Georgia.
“I’ve probably got about 2,000 trees in production and right now. I’m selling all I can produce,” Franklin said. “There’s a huge market out there all up and down the east coast of the U.S.”
Many of Franklin’s trees produce Satsuma Mandarins. He describes the fruit as similar to a tangerine: juicy, seedless, and sweet as well as low in acid. The variety is a good choice for Georgia because it tends to be more tolerant of cold weather.
Franklin said the bulk of his fruit is sold at farm stands and farmers markets in Georgia as well as in garden centers in places like Boston and New York.
Traditionally, the late fall and early winter mean harvesting crops like cotton and pecans for Georgia farmers. But a disease called “Greening” killing trees in Florida means more Georgia farmers are growing and harvesting citrus. Greening is caused by a bacterium spread by an insect called the Asian citrus psyllid.
“Luckily the bug has not made it this far north,” Franklin said. “We don’t know if it will because we do have cooler weather and we hope that’s going to be some kind of a deterrent to the bug.”
Franklin said he is growing other citrus including clementine’s and tangerines. He plans to keep adding additional trees to his farm. The Georgia citrus harvest goes through early February.