While Florida agriculture works to recover from the damage left behind by Hurricane Irma, the industry has turned its attention to citrus with the monthly Citrus Forecast from the USDA. From this forecast, which was first released on October 12, you’ll hear a lot about oranges and grapefruit, but not Florida lemons and limes. The Florida commercial lemon industry is a very niche industry, so it’s not as prevalent, and there are very interesting reasons behind why that is the case.
The History of Lemons in Florida
Lemons were once much more prevalent in Florida (although they were never as common as oranges). A combination of events, however, put the commercial lemon industry to bed. In the 1970s, a hard freeze killed so many lemon trees that many commercial growers just didn’t replant. In the face of citrus canker and citrus greening— both of which can affect lemon trees—and strong completion, the Florida lemon industry ceased being viable.
Currently, there are under 600 acres in Florida growing lemons, compared with roughly 500,000 acres in The Sunshine State growing oranges, grapefruit, and tangerines. Comparatively, California grows over 40,000 acres of lemons.
Growing Lemons in Florida
Lemons grown in the U.S. are typically Sicilian-type lemons, such as Bearrs, Eureka, and Lisbon. While lemon trees are cold hardy, they are vulnerable to freezing temperatures. Lemons do best in arid areas, as humidity increases disease susceptibility. The trees prefer soil with a high pH, and its recommended to source trees with the Florida Department of Agriculture Citrus Budwood Program logo. Those looking to plant alternative crops could consider lemons as a possibility, but they would need to be armed and ready to combat citrus canker and citrus greening.
Could a lemon grove become successful in Florida under cover, such as with the CUPS (Citrus Under Protective Screens) program being developed by researchers at UF/IFAS? This question and many more are being asked on both the ground level (with grove owners), and at the “big picture” level in research labs across the state and throughout the country. Only time will tell if lemons might find a way to make a comeback in Florida soil.
This column is sponsored by AgAmerica Lending.
BIO: Donald Harden, a Relationship Manager for AgAmerica Lending, grew up in the cattle and citrus business,
managing a family ranch of several thousand cattle and horses. He has more than 30 years of experience in the real
estate business, and more than 20 years specializing in agricultural sales. Over the years, Don has been honored to
serve the ag community in many facets, including as a director and on the board of the cattlemen’s association, as a
manufacturer’s representative for ag equipment companies, and as a beef cattle specialist for a national feed
company. For more information about Don and the AgAmerica team, visit AgAmerica.com.
CREDIT: Don Harden