Tulare County is sweet on lemons

New seedless variety fuels planting spree of lemon acreage in Tulare County and helps offset loss of restaurant business during pandemic

TULARE COUNTY – Tulare County citrus growers are sweet on lemons, and the trend may only be beginning.

Tulare growers also went on a planting spree in lemons, now with almost 9,000 acres planted including 2,184 acres of young nonbearing trees, according to the new USADA report released in September. The additional plantings mean local growers have planted more lemons in the past few years than state leader Ventura County on the coast.

Some of the plantings were driven by a new seedless variety. Wonderful rolled out its Seedless Lemons to grocery stores last November touting them as a naturally seedless, Non-GMO Project Verified variety of lemon. Wonderful Seedless Lemons were in limited supply this year, and were only available in one- and two-pound bags through May 2020.

“We are excited to introduce Wonderful Seedless Lemons to consumers who will love this new premium variety of lemon that is naturally seedless and non-GMO Project Verified. They’re just as juicy and have all the flavor of conventional lemons, but with none of the annoyance of seeds, saving you time in the kitchen,” said Adam Cooper, senior vice president of marketing at The Wonderful Company. “Consumers who love lemons will have fun discovering this one-of-a-kind variety that is easily identified in stores with an eye-catching branded logo and packaging, as well as colorful in-store displays.”

But not all Valley growers are as excited about lemons. On Sept. 2, Limoneira Co. sold nearly 300 acres of citrus, including lemons, near Lindsay. The 291-acre piece of land, referred to as Lindsay Central Valley by the company, was sold after a continuing review of strategic initiatives determined it “is not aligned with the company’s other orange and specialty citrus properties,” according to a news release.

The deal closed Aug. 26 and was announced by Limoneira on Sept. 2. The company received about $6 million in net proceeds from the sale; it will record “a one-time, non-cash loss of approximately ($300,000) in its third fiscal quarter” because of the sale.

“We are pleased with the sale of our Lindsay property which is in-line with our long-term strategy to streamline non-synergistic assets that do not meet our longer-term goals,” Harold Edwards, president and CEO, said in the release. “As with prior sales of non-synergistic assets, we will use the cash generated by the sale to pay down debt and to invest in the growth of our core agribusiness.”

While growing conditions have been ideal for the crop along the coast and retail sales were up, Teague said it was not enough to make up for the absence of the foodservice downturn. According to The Packer, an industry trade publication, retail lemon sales for Los Angeles-based Melissa’s World Variety Produce were up 12% March into April compared to January/February, said Robert Schueller, director of public relations. Organic lemons were up 16%, seedless lemons were up 10% and meyer lemons were up 18%.

Just a few weeks earlier, the Santa Paula, Calif.-based Limoneira announced it had added two U.S. distribution facilities to its network. The company now has a new distribution center in Miami, and warehouse and packing facility in Vineland, N.J. John Carter, Limoneira’s director of global sales, said in a news release that the new facilities complements distribution points in California and Texas and adds efficiency and cost-effective distribution.

“We’re doing our best to solve customer challenges and can offer logistical support and packaging options in addition to consistent fruit quality and sustainability solutions,” Carter said in the release.

Alex Teague, chief operating officer, said the company’s One World of Citrus model has been in place for several years and is instrumental in servicing customers.

“With our operations in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres, we are able to offer citrus from our trees direct to our buyers every day of the year,” Teague said in the release.

Other citrus

Tulare County citrus farmers planted more acres of mandarin oranges in recent years according to the new USADA report.

Tulare County leads the state with nearly 24,000 acres of mandarins planted that includes 1920 acres of new plantings—nonbearing acres. Tulare growers planted the most new mandarin trees in 2018­: 1,229 acres. This year they planted 220 acres of new trees. Statewide there are now almost 64,000 mandarin acres, up from 45,182 in 2012.

The seedless tango variety of mandarins enjoyed a rush to plant  in 2018 when nearly 1600 acres went into the ground. Tango mandarins now cover 17,179 acres statewide.

As for navels Tulare growers have planted 1904 nonbearing acres bringing the county total to just under 66,000 acres—almost half the state’s total of 115,485.

Within the navel category CaraCara oranges have seen new plantings- now over 8300 acres in the state.

Only Valencia oranges declined slightly in the state says the bi-annual citrus report.

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