Satsuma oranges developed for production in South Georgia’s climate are immensely popular with kids.
“They love them,” said Ware County grower Garrett Ganas. “How do you say, ‘No, stop eating them?’ Son, you want to sit down and eat a bag of oranges? Sure. Go ahead.”
Likewise, Lowndes County Extension Coordinator Jake Price let his children take some to school. They shared them with classmates and came back asking for more. With the fruit still in development, supplies were limited. The demand, though, was readily apparent.
Like most kids who try Satsumas, Maxwell Price, son of Jake & Kristi Price, is a big fan of the citrus fruit.
(Photo courtesy Jake Price)
“They’re easy to peel, seedless, they’re like Cuties and Halos, but they’re grown here in Georgia, and they can tolerate cold weather,” said Price.
Ganas, a long-time pecan producer who expects to have his first marketable citrus crop in fall 2020, planted Satsuma trees because he wanted to diversify his farm. While the new trees present a number of challenges, the fruit seems to sell itself.
“There’s a lot of attention being paid to the health benefits of it,” Ganas said. “You’ve got something that is very attractive to mothers and children.”
Price estimates that there are more than 120 citrus growers in Georgia, spread across 39 counties. Collectively they’ve planted more than 265,000 trees on about 1,800 acres. More than 80% of the trees are Satsuma trees. Marketable fruit is already being produced on 293 acres.
Find your market
Price spoke about Satsuma research in Lowndes County during the citrus conference that was part of the 2020 Southeastern Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association. He offered tips for growers, like Ganas, who are interested in adding citrus groves or expanding their existing ones.
Growers should have a marketing plan before planting trees, Price says, even though trees can take four or five years to reach full fruit-bearing maturity.
“We started off just going to farmers markets on the weekends,” Bulloch County grower Joe Franklin said. “Occasionally we’d go to one [market] during the week. We also got in the school system. That’s a real good outlet. You kind of evolve as you go along, because you’ve got more fruit. You’ve got to do something with it, so you’ve got to find new avenues to move that fruit. I guess direct sales is mainly what we’re doing now. We do internet sales and we do direct sales. In the coming years, we’re going to have to have something to move more fruit.”
Ganas thinks older consumers are an untapped market.
“An aspect of it [the crop’s potential market] that has not been spoken of much is elderly people, because of how easy the fruit is to peel. That’s not been hit on very much, but I think it could be a huge selling point for some fruit,” Ganas said.
Mitigate cold weather
When planting their groves, producers should take steps to protect them from cold temperatures, Price advises. Georgia Satsuma varieties, once mature, can withstand short periods of temperatures as low as 10 to 12 degrees Fahrenheit, but taking steps to mitigate the cold will help the trees reach maturity.
For instance, knowing that winds usually break on the north and west side of hills, producers should plant Satsuma trees on south-facing slopes.
“There’s a lot of little things you can do to kind of help your site before you plant,” Price said.
Even though Satsumas are bred to be cold tolerant, there are limits to how far north the fruit can be produced. So far, growers, like Franklin, who have planted Satsumas as far north as Statesboro, have fared okay with freezes.
“People are rolling the dice a little bit, but so far so good. There’s no sure thing in farming,” Price said, though mature trees tend to handle cold temperatures better than younger ones.
Be prepared for greening
Besides weather, the other key threat to growing citrus in Georgia is citrus greening. This disease is caused by bacteria spread by Asian citrus psyllids, small insects that eat stems and leaves of citrus trees. Georgia doesn’t have a greening problem yet, Price said, though the psyllids have been found in residential trees along the Georgia coast.
There is no current treatment available for trees found to have citrus greening.
Once greening is detected in a tree, the UGA Extension recommendation for Georgia growers and homeowners with backyard trees is to pull the tree up from the roots and destroy it to help prevent spreading the disease, UGA Extension Pathologist Jonathan Oliver says.
“Trees infected with the citrus greening bacterium will eventually decline, cease producing palatable fruit and die,” Oliver said.
If left alone, infected trees will contribute to spread of the disease.
Oliver points out that the approach of destroying affected trees wouldn’t work in Florida, where the industry is much bigger and as many as 80% of the trees are affected by citrus greening.
Price emphasizes purchasing trees from a reputable source.
“You don’t want to buy trees from roadside gas stations, anything grown outside in Florida where there’s threats of citrus greening, or on the coast of Georgia and the Gulf Coast areas, where they have greening and the psyllids will transmit the greening. Don’t bring in trees from one of those areas,” Price said.
Buying trees from USDA-approved nurseries in Florida where the young trees are grown inside to limit exposure to the psyllids is OK, Price said.
Early preparation for greening is critical to Satsuma growers’ success, he said, noting that Georgia’s producers can benefit in part from the experience Florida growers have had with citrus greening. More is known now about the disease and how it spreads.
“It’s probably inevitable that we’re going to get greening in commercial groves,” Price said. “Know the ins and outs of greening because you’re going to get it.”
Growers can consult their local county Extension agent for tips on diagnosing greening and identifying the psyllids. UGA Cooperative Extension also offers testing for the bacteria that causes citrus greening.