It has been 25 years since Dennis Holbrook established South Tex Organics LP in Mission, Texas, and Holbrook has no regrets about his decision to go organic.
The company now has more than 500 acres of organic products — mostly rio star grapefruit, but also meyer lemons and several varieties of oranges, as well as spring crops of onions and watermelons.
Holbrook bought his family’s citrus operation from his father in 1977.
He had been looking into organic growing methods for a couple of years when a major freeze struck in December 1983, wiping out about half of the state’s citrus acreage.
He took the opportunity to “get off the chemical merry-go-round,” converted 60 acres to organic production and started South Tex Organics in January 1984.
Following another freeze in 1989, Holbrook decided to convert 100% of his acreage to organic.
He had several reasons for making the transition.
First, production costs were increasing. In 1981 and 1982, when Texas had its second- and third-largest grapefruit crops ever, the company was selling grapefruit for a mere $15 per ton, not enough to cover growing costs.
Second, the company took part in a blind study wherein blood and hair samples of agriculture workers were analyzed for pesticide residues. Holbrook himself was tested, and results showed “fairly high residue levels” in his system.
“That was a very concerning issue to me,” he said.
Also, he and his wife, Lynda, were ready to start a family about that time, and she expressed an interest in raising her children on organic products.
Finally, soil samples taken from the company’s groves in 1983 showed that using chemical weed controls had burned up most of the organic matter in the ground.
“Organic matter is the life source of the soil,” Holbrook said.
As a result of using conventional weed killers, Holbrook found that he was growing citrus in “almost sterile media.” The trees virtually had to be hand fed to provide them with necessary nutrients.
Holbrook’s organic growing operation has provided a livelihood for his family and helped educate his children, he said.