The Story of Texas Oranges
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The orange was brought to Florida in 1565 by a group of Spanish Explorers. It was an instant hit. Over the next few centuries, farmers planted huge crops of the tropical fruit to satisfy local demand. By the early nineteenth century, demand was so high that the commercial orange industry in Florida was born.
Years later, the orange made its way to Texas. Desperate for new agricultural crops, farmers in South Texas planted both sweet oranges and grapefruit. The earliest known citrus crop was cultivated in a region known as the Rio Grande Valley in 1882.
Sadly, the crop was a failure. In time, however, farmers would come to realize that all oranges planted on trifoliate rootstock died because the rootstock cannot grow in alkaline soils. This was earliest indication that Texas oranges were a temperament fruit.
After a quarter of a century of trial and error, the first successful orange orchard was established in 1908. It would be another thirty years before the Texas citrus industry was born. At that time, most orchards grew only Texas oranges and Ruby Red grapefruit. Though the grapefruit was far more popular, Texas oranges accounted for about one quarter of the citrus production in the Lone Star State.
At its peak in the mid-1940s, there were over 100,000 acres of citrus groves in Texas. This was quite an accomplishment, considering the fact that the industry was only a decade old at the time. By comparison, Florida has had a commercial citrus industry for well over a century when they were overtaken by the young upstart.
Unfortunately, a series of natural disasters and freezes would hobble the Texas industry over the next half century. Major freezes occurred in the following years: 1948, 1951, 1962, 1983, and 1989. These freezes destroyed between 20 and 70 percent of the citrus crops in the state of Texas.
Was Texas cursed? No, of course not. All citrus producing states have to deal with freezes. In the end, the problem was concentration, not geography. You see, states like California and Florida have far more available acreage on which to cultivate their citrus crops. So, if a freeze hits one region of the state, only a small portion of total state production is affected. But in Texas, around 90 percent of citrus crops are planted in the Rio Grande Valley, which means that if a freeze hits the region, the entire industry is impacted.
Though the market has improved over the last decade, production of Texas oranges and grapefruits is only about forty percent of what it was in 1980. Of course, the citrus industry remains vital to the economy of Texas with annual revenues of more than two-hundred million dollars.