( Photo courtesy Mae Mu; Source Unsplash; Graphic by Brooke Park )

Organic citrus growers in California and Texas are reporting ample supplies of good-quality fruit this season, with demand continuing to expand.

“Overall, we have a better crop set on all the varietals that we offer this year,” said Craig Morris, citrus and grape category director for Homegrown Organic Farms, Porterville, Calif. 

“The quality and condition are superior to last year,” he said.

Pack outs are higher, too. The company expects to see a 15% to 20% jump in volume.

Homegrown Organic Farms offers navel oranges, lemons, cara cara navels, grapefruit, pummelos, satsumas, clementines, tango/w murcotts and blood oranges grown domestically, along with limes from Mexico.

In Mission, Texas, Dennis Holbrook, president of South Tex Organics LC, also was reported good quality on the company’s grapefruit, several varieties of oranges and some meyer lemons.

Volume will be down a bit this year after a heavy crop last season, he said.

“The trees have taken a little bit of a break,” he said. “They’re not quite as laden down with citrus as they were last year.”

This year’s crop volume will be more in the average range, he said.

Fruit size was an issue early on, but sizing seemed to be catching up in January, he said.

January and February are the strongest months for organic citrus, Holbrook said.

Cecelia Packing Corp., Orange Cove, Calif., grows but does not pack organic navels, cara caras and a few lemons, said Keith Wilson, sales manager,

“Demand is still great for organic,” Wilson said.

Ranches get good returns for their organic citrus every year, he said.

“It’s still a growing segment of the industry.”

The fact that Homegrown Organic Farms is well established in the business and has a strong customer base has helped the company progress, Morris said.

“We’ve really built a lot of trust and built some incredible programs in the industry,” he said.

One trend Morris has noticed in recent years is growth of the organic mandarin category.

Five years ago, mandarins accounted for 10% of the company’s portfolio, he said. Today that figure is up to as much as 30%.

“We’ve increased our development of the mandarin varietals to match customer demand,” he said.

Navel volume is higher than mandarins but consistent, while most of the new plantings are mandarins.

“Our navel growth is not growing at such a rapid pace, but the orange is still the foundation of our program,” he said.

The company offers organic navel and valencia oranges.

Holbrook said South Tex organics is an organic pioneer and the largest organic citrus grower in Texas.

The company has seen the category undergo significant growth over its 36 years.

In its early days, the firm exported some of its citrus because there was more product than demand in the domestic market, Holbrook said.

“That is not the case any longer,” he said. “We’re having ample demand for the volume we’re producing. It’s a good balance.”

Holbrook said Texas is an ideal place to grow organic citrus.

“We have best of all worlds,” he said.

There’s a semitropical growing environment with warm days and cooler evenings; a coastal breeze, since the growing area is not too far from Gulf of Mexico; and it’s in a river delta, so the soils are rich with nutrients and minerals, he said.

“It makes an ideal condition to grow grapefruit and oranges.”

The organic category has been growing steadily for several decades, Holbrook said, and he doesn’t expect that growth to slow anytime soon.

“I don’t see any indicators where that growth will slow down or level off,” he said.

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