Explore the niche industry of Florida lemons.
As more details are coming out regarding the full effect of Hurricane Irma on Florida agriculture, most eyes are turned to the first release of the monthly Citrus Forecast in October. It focuses on citrus like oranges and grapefruit, but Florida lemons will not be as great of a concern to most of The Sunshine State’s citrus industry. As I shared in my latest column in Central Florida Ag News, the commercial lemon industry in Florida is a very niche industry, so it’s not as prevalent as other forms of citrus. See the reasons why Florida lemons are such a rarity below, and what it takes to grow a lemon tree in The Sunshine State.
The History of Florida Lemons
Lemons were once much more common in Florida, especially South Florida, than they are today, but they were never as predominant as oranges and grapefruit. However, like with limes, a combination of damaging events put an end to the commercial lemon industry. In the 1970s, a hard freeze killed so many lemon trees that, according to a Tampa Bay Times article, many commercial growers threw in the towel completely. Then, in the face of citrus canker and citrus greening, both of which can affect lemon trees, the Florida lemon industry ceased being viable given the strong competition from other states and other countries.
Lemons in Florida and Around the World
Currently, according to a University of Florida IFAS Extension article, the top five lemon-producing countries are India, Argentina, Spain, Iran, and the United States. There are under 600 acres of lemon farms in Florida, based on 2004 data. When compared with the roughly 500,000 acres in The Sunshine State growing oranges, grapefruit, and tangerines, it shows how niche the lemon industry really is. Comparatively, California grows 45,000 acres of lemons, and Arizona grows 13,500 acres, based on 2007 numbers.
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 higher humidity levels—such as in Florida—increase the rate of disease. The trees prefer soil with a high pH, and it is recommended to source trees with the Florida Department of Agriculture Citrus Budwood Program logo if looking to grow lemons in The Sunshine State. Lemon producers will need to commit to combating citrus canker and citrus greening, as lemon trees are susceptible to both.
If you’re interested in growing lemons as an alternative crop in Florida or just in learning more about AgAmerica Lending’s custom citrus loans, contact us today to speak with our team of lending experts.
Growing up in the Florida cattle and citrus business, Don Harden manages his family ranch of several thousand head of cattle and horses. He has almost 40 years of experience in the real estate business; 15 years of which were spent with a large real estate auction company specializing in agricultural sales.