Texas citrus growers are increasingly receiving interest from beyond North America, and some are testing the market for new products.
Canada, China and Chile are the chief export destinations for Texas citrus, said Bret Erickson, president of the Texas International Produce Association, Mission.
Trent Bishop, vice president of sales for Mission-based Lone Star Citrus Growers, has received more inquiries from Europe, but said it is still not cost-effective to ship out of Houston or freight produce to Miami to be shipped to Europe.
David Krause, president of Delano, Calif.-based Paramount Citrus, also received inquiries from Europe, and is shipping to the continent in small volumes, he said.
Krause underscored that Paramount’s emphasis is on the domestic market, but said the company also has customers in the Pacific Rim, including Japan.
South of the border
Many producers are also expanding cultivations in Mexico and requiring assistance from the growers association, Erickson said.
He made three trips to Mexico in the past year, partly to pave the way for growers to more quickly get their produce across the border and into Midwest and East Coast markets.
Erickson said the association is lobbying for more federal resources at ports of entry, including more Department of Agriculture inspectors and Customs and Border Patrol agricultural specialists to streamline product entry.
He also said Mexico is not a threat to the Texas citrus industry, adding that the new trans-Mexico superhighway is not a factor since Texas barely produces any lemons or limes, Mexico’s main citrus export to the U.S.
He did say, however, that young lime orchards are on the rise in South Texas.
Lemons and limes
Ray Prewett, president of Texas Citrus Mutual, Mission, has seen a significant acreage of Persian limes planted across the Rio Grande Valley, though he has not seen tangerines, mandarins or lemons.
Lone Star Citrus’s Bishop thinks one factor in why more growers are not trying lemons, limes and specialty citrus is that they could not get crop insurance.
Some smaller growers, like Mani Skaria, chairman, founder and CEO of U.S. Citrus in Hardill, Texas, are making the gamble.
Skaria, a former professor in the citrus department at Texas A&M University who also helped the U.S. Agency for International Developement set up a citrus program in Jordan, thinks he can tap into the once prolific U.S. lime market.
“South Florida used to have lime trees and that void was filled by Mexico,” he said.
U.S. lime consumption has steadily increased for the past two decades, he said.
Launched in 2012, U.S. Citrus relies on fast-producing trees and dense plantings for profit.
“I’m not competing with Mexican limes,” he said. “I’m part of the high-quality citrus revolution.”