Tips on Growing Organic Citrus Fruit

Over the last decade more and more consumers have demanded organically produce meat, dairy, produce and citrus products.  Organic products are healthier for consumers, and better for the environment. Most people who eat a lot of organic food swear that organic food, especially product like citrus fruit and dairy products, taste much better than other food.  Because of these benefits most customers who want organic citrus products are willing to pay a premium price for items that have been certified organic. But what does “organic” really mean?

When a food item is certified organic it means that an overseeing FDA agency has looked at the farmer’s farming methods, checked out the pest control methods that were used on the item, made sure that no chemical fertilizers were used on the item, and that the item was grown in accordance with the rules and regulations that govern organic farming. Some famers claim their fruit is grown organically but have not been certified as organic farms which means that no outside agency has verified their claims of using only natural products to produce the fruit.

When it comes to citrus fruits “organic” refers to how the fruit is grown.  Organic farming uses only natural pest control and fertilizers and never uses chemical weedkillers or pest killers on the citrus trees as they are growing.  Fertilizers are usually mixed right on the premises and consist of potting soil, compost, hay, and other natural materials.  Growing citrus organically presents some unique challenges to citrus farmers because of the processes that they need to use in order to control pests and fertilize their citrus trees.

When people think of a citrus grove they usually think of a commercially managed grove full of well manicured citrus trees, but an organic citrus grove is a little more chaotic looking than a traditional commercial grove.  An organic citrus grove will usually have some type of ground cover plant hovering near the trees and there will be weeds everywhere. Weeds and ground cover encourage insects which are the natural predators of insects that destroy citrus trees to make their homes in the grove. Then those insects keep the pests that would ruin the citrus trees under control which eliminates the need for commercial pest control.  The ground cover plants also help insulate the citrus trees in case there is a cold snap or some other inclement weather that could damage the trees.

Another problem that organic citrus farmers face is the issue of how their final products look.  Commercially grown fruit is treated with preservatives and often covered with a thin layer of wax to prevent damage and to make it look more attractive. Organic fruit doesn’t have those cosmetic touches. Some buyers are put off by citrus fruit that can have dents or minor cosmetic flaws even though the organic fruit is healthier for consumers to eat.  Without preservatives organic fruit also must be rushed from the field to the market, which increases the cost of the fruit.  Even though organic farming is more time intensive and more expensive, which means the final product is more expensive, many farmers are switching to organic farming methods.