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Texas citrus industry rebuilding

mission, tx — There are about 700 citrus growers in South Texas and the commercial citrus industry has been stable at about 30,000 acres for a decade.

About 70 percent of this acreage is grapefruit, with oranges accounting for the remainder.

The industry changed very quickly three or four years ago when Wonderful Citrus LLC, based in Delano, CA, established a Texas citrus presence, according to Dale Murden, president of Texas Citrus Mutual.

Wonderful has a large, modern facility in Mission, TX. “Overnight, they absorbed 50 percent of the industry,” said Murden. “They’re very innovative and recently bought a juice plant.”

Texas’ citrus acreage in the 1950s and 1960s was measured by hundreds of thousands of acres. However, real estate development and severe freezes in the 1980s slashed Texas acreage, Murden said.

Currently, Texas citrus growers are planting about 1,000 acres per year. A common new planting is Rio Red — which is the same as Texas Red — a high-quality grapefruit variety.

“Good growers are shipping 80 percent of their volume to the fresh market,” Murden added.

There are quality issues, however. Among the culprits causing issues are rust mites that mar fruit appearance.

Commercial growers face insect challenges for a variety of reasons. Murden said there are 1 million backyard citrus trees in this region and consumers don’t necessarily properly maintain their trees.

Furthermore, there are 100,000 acres of abandoned commercial citrus groves. Experts at Texas A&M and at the USDA have been working to minimize pests coming from these sources.

Texas Citrus Mutual cooperates with Texas International Produce Association, the Texas Department of Agriculture, the state legislature and USDA to address these insect and disease threats.

There is an irony with South Texas sitting along the Mexico border. While APHIS personnel work very diligently to keep harmful insects from riding into the United States in refrigerated trailers, there is no defense for bugs flying 100 feet across the Rio Grande River.

“The wall isn’t stopping them either,” Murden smirked.

“We are the front line for the rest of the nation,” he noted.

Texas Citrus Mutual is a volunteer organization, which merged with Texas Sweet in 2016. Texas Citrus Mutual is in the Texas Sweet building in Mission.