If you have a lemon or tangerine tree in your yard and the quality of the fruit has declined, you could be endangering a burgeoning crop in Georgia.
The 1,000 acres of commercially grown citrus in 100 groves in Georgia has, thus far, escaped citrus greening, a crop that has devastated portions of the industry in Florida, said Lindy Savelle, president of Georgia Grown Citrus, a fledgling association of growers. Savelle was a relatively new exhibitor Monday at the Georgia Farm Bureau’s 82nd annual convention on Jekyll Island.
“There’s some greening on the coastline from older, homeowner trees,’’ Savelle said. “The problem is finding the homeowners.”
Georgia crops have avoided the spread of greening, which is spread by an insect, the Asian citrus psyllid, because of the wide buffer between infected trees in middle Florida and Georgia’s young groves. Infected trees produce green, misshapen, bitter fruit and anyone with trees that produce that sort of inedible fruit should call their county agricultural extension agent, Savelle said.
If a tree is found to be infected, cut it and dispose of it, by burning if possible, she said.
Savellee peeled and handed out sample segments of the satsuma orange, the most popular furit in Georgia.
Georgia farmers are also growing lemons, limes, navel oranges and grapefruit, Savelle said.
“I grew limes in our grove,’’ said Savelle, whose LP & Jonina Farms has groves in Mitchell and Thomas counties. “I sold every lime, lemon and tangerine I could get off my trees.”
With more cold tolerant varieties coming out of greenhouses, more acres are being planted each year in North Florida and as far north in Georgia as Statesboro.
“By 2023, there will be 66 million pounds grown in Georgia and North Florida,’’ she said.
Most of that fruit will be consumed domestically, but a lot has been said about the effects of the trade war with China, a big consumer of U.S. food.
So far peanuts, one of Georgia’s signature crops, has been unaffected by the retaliatory tariffs imposed on American exports, said Don Koehler, executive director of the Georgia Peanut Commission.
“The Chinese haven’t been hurt,’’ because the peanuts enter China through a back door of sorts through Vietnam, Koehler said.
Prior to Trump’s election, China already had a 26 percent tariff on American peanuts and that’s about what it is today, he said.
Also, peanuts escaped higher Chinese tariffs on nuts because it’s not like a pecan or a walnut, he said. “It’s a legume.”
Newton grower Tim Burch, a board member of the commission, said he’s unfazed by Trump’s imposition of tariffs on the Chinese that were countered with higher tariffs on American goods.
“They’ve hurt me, but he’s still my president and I’m proud of him,’’ Burch said.
Koehler said the Chinese aren’t especially good customers anyway because they want lower grade peanuts that can be ground into meal or milled for oil.
“The Chinese are buyers when peanuts are cheap. They’re after peanut oil,’’ he said.
Besides that, Burch said, the weather and domestic prices are bigger problems than tariffs.
Burch said he was fortunate to be in southwest Georgia where growing conditions were relatively good while growers elsewhere saw their crops damaged by excessive rain.
“I hate to say we had a good crop because I’ll hurt some people’s feelings,’’ but the truth is, overall Georgia had a good year for peanuts, he said.
It has not been a good year for tobacco, and it’s getting worse, said J. Michael Moore, the University of Georgia’s longtime expert on the crop.
Tobacco was once the most reliable money crop in Georgia. Just a few acres kept many South Georgia growers in the black when other crops fared badly in yield or prices. After the scrapping of a USDA-administered price support system, tobacco companies contract directly with the growers and the old auction system is dead.
“The tobacco system is shrinking,’’ Moore said. “It won’t be long, I’m afraid, before the tobacco acreage in Georgia is smaller than the hemp acreage.”
Indeed, there are now only 8,800 acres of tobacco in 26 Georgia counties, a dramatic decrease from the peak production years in the 1980s. The Georgia Tobacco Growers Association doesn’t even have a speaker scheduled this year on the subject of Georgia’s flue cured crop.
“There are two hemp speakers scheduled for the meeting,’’ Moore said.
Moore said it’s obvious that many Georgia farmers will face problems in switching to growing hemp for medicinal uses.
“You have to have clean land for hemp. It has to be cleaner than organic. God forbid you have CBD oil with a residue of pesticide from corn or soybeans.”
The Georgia Farm Bureau has its own issues to deal, including declining membership. Most of the 300,000 members are not farmers, but are instead customers of the organization’s homeowners and auto insurance.
Farm Bureau President Gerald Long of Bainbridge said that the confederation was once growing so fast because of new insurance customers, it was having trouble building enough offices to service its customers. That was when Farm Bureau insurance was among the most economical, he said, but conditions have changed.
Long said the Farm Bureau has a new health insurance partnership with Anthem through which it can offer coverage to those with 50 or fewer employees and to sole proprietors. Those policies can be extended only to Farm Bureau members, he said.
At next year’s meeting, the Farm Bureau will roll out its mobile agriculture classroom that will visit schools around the state to demonstrate to children how food is grown and what agriculture does for Georgia, Long said.
On Tuesday, the Farm Bureau county delegates will vote on a legislative agenda for Georgia and the U.S. Congress.