The Cost of Growing Texas Oranges
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The orange came to Texas sometime in the late nineteenth century. It was brought by Spanish missionaries who also delivered grapefruit seeds to local farmers. This was indeed a blessing, since the state was in desperate need of new agricultural products.
Unfortunately, the orange had a less than auspicious start in the Lone Star State. In fact, all of the early crops that were planted in the 1880s died. Farmers were flummoxed, but they continued to experiment with Texas oranges and grapefruit. Years later, they discovered that the problem was the rootstock they were using. Shortly thereafter, the first successful orchard was established in South Texas in 1908.
By the 1940s, the Texas citrus industry was the largest in the country with over 100,000 acres. Production of Texas oranges and Ruby Red grapefruit was concentrated almost entirely in one region, the Lower Rio Grande Valley. About ninety percent of the fruit grown in Texas comes from this region.
Why is that? Well, both Texas oranges and grapefruit are subtropical fruits and, not surprisingly, they need a subtropical climate to grow. And since South Texas is the only part of the state with a subtropical climate, it is the only place where citrus fruits are cultivated commercially.
Now, there's only one problem with growing crops in a single region, which is that when a freeze or a natural disaster strikes, the entire industry is affected. Unfortunately, Texas had to learn this the hard way.
The first major freeze struck in 1948. It wiped out about twenty percent of Texas oranges and grapefruit in the state. Another hit in the 50s and one more in the 70s, but neither had much of an effect on production or on the total citrus acres in the state.
Then in 1983, a severe freeze over the Christmas holiday destroyed seventy percent of citrus crops in Texas. In a single week, the prospects of the industry went from rosy to uncertain, as total acreage was reduced from 69,000 to 22,000 acres. Because most trees needed to be replanted, the Lone Star State did not produce Texas oranges or grapefruit in 1984.
After five years of hard work, the industry was finally able to get back on its feet and increase total acreage to 36,000. Sadly, another severe freeze in 1989 would knock them back down again. This time the acreage fell to a record low of around 12,000.
Today, the Texas Citrus Industry operates on around 30,000 acres. Though it is only about forty percent of the size it was before the first big freeze, production levels are stable and profits are up.
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