All About Florida Oranges And Grapefruits

The major reason why canned orange juice “tastes different” is that, to prevent it from discoloring by oxidation, it has to be deprived of most of its oxygen content before the cans are sealed. Much of the missing oxygen, and with it the missing taste of fresh orange juice, can be restored by aerating the canned juice. This can be done either by stirring it briskly in an open bowl for a minute or so with an ordinary egg-beater, or by pouring it over an air-distance of a foot or more from one container to another, eight or ten times. As Dr. Knight has pointed out, it is easy enough to preserve orange juice by cooking it, but when you do that you destroy the ingredient which gives it its greatest popularity, next to its flavor, which is vitamin C. Also, you lose the flavor entirely. However, the market took more than 350,000 twenty-four can cases of canned orange juice, over 200,000 cases of mixed orange and grapefruit juice, and more than 75,000 cases of “citrus salad,” broken segments of oranges and grapefruit canned together, in the season which ended in June, 1937.

By-products of the citrus canneries are also finding considerable markets. Of major importance is the oil extracted from orange peel, which has a market value of around $15 a pound, and is used by perfume manufacturers but principally by large wholesale bakeries and manufacturers of flavoring essences and soda fountain syrups, to impart an orange flavor to icings, ice cream and drinks.

The peels themselves, especially those of the grapefruit with the “rag” which remains after the pulp and juice have been extracted, are dried, ground to a meal, and are coming into wide use as a feed for dairy cattle and for fattening beef stock. Cattle are said to like this citrus feed very much and to thrive on it. Some dairymen reported complaints that when made of orange peel the citrus feed imparted an orange flavor to the milk of cows fed upon it, to which some milk consumers objected. One enterprising citrus canner began in 1937 experiments with a baby food put up in granular form like a breakfast cereal, prepared exclusively from orange peel. It is a highly palatable preparation not yet on the market as this is written, but is undergoing practical tests in several children’s hospitals.

The second means whereby Florida is moving to eliminate future surpluses of citrus fruits, especially grapefruit, has already been referred to. This is direct distribution to consumers through the great grocery chain store groups.

When it became apparent, early in the 1936-37 season, that Florida was heading for a bumper crop of grapefruit, negotiations were opened, in which the Florida State Chamber of Commerce took the initiative, with the Citrus Commission and the Florida Citrus Exchange, the largest cooperative marketing organization in the state, cooperating with the National Association of Food Chains, comprising 130 organizations operating 37,000 retail groceries and markets in every one of the forty-eight states. Plans were developed for a “National Bumper Crop Grapefruit Sale” by the chain stores of the entire nation throughout January and February, 1937.

This was carried out so successfully that the menace of a crop nearly fifty percent greater than that of the previous year, which had created what the United States Department of Agriculture called “the nation’s number one surplus problem,” was converted into a veritable jubilee for Florida citrus growers. The chain stores put on a grapefruit advertising campaign, using 8,000 daily and weekly newspapers and radio, and backed this up with window displays, posters, handbills and other methods of promoting public interest in grapefruit, at the same time instructing their 150,000 store salesmen to urge grapefruit upon their 12,000,000 daily customers.

The direct result of this chain store drive on grapefruit was the shipment and sale in January and February, 1937, of nearly twice as many boxes of grapefruit as in the corresponding months of 1936, 4,229,640 boxes as against 2,194,056. The chain stores themselves increased their grapefruit sales by 275 percent, and introduced grapefruit into communities and whole regions where it had been almost completely unknown. The chain store people did not ask or receive any special discounts, but on the contrary bought their grapefruit at the prevailing daily market quotations, which rose consistently from January through to the end of the season, when they were practically double the price at the beginning of the chain store campaign.

A secondary result of this cooperation with Florida growers on the part of the national chain store organizations was to create in the minds of Florida folk who knew what was going on an entirely new and friendly attitude toward the chain stores. The public good will in Florida created by the realization that the chain stores, instead of being public enemies, as political demagogues picture them, were performing a vital public service in the rapid and economical distribution of commodities over wide areas, was the deciding factor in defeating, at the 1937 session of the legislature, measures designed to drive the chain stores out of Florida by taxing them beyond the limit of their ability to pay and still continue to render adequate service to consumers.

The third stabilizing element which has come into the Florida citrus picture since 1935 is the great extension of water transportation in the carrying of oranges and grapefruit and other Florida products to Northern markets. The excessive freight charges of the railroads leading from Florida to the North have long been a theme of bitter complaint by Florida shippers, especially those whose products had to be sold in competition with water-borne products from the Pacific coast, such as California oranges, which get the benefit of a competitive rail-water rate regardless of which route they choose. This discrimination was the motivating force back of the development of the new Florida ports of Fort Pierce, West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades). Fort Pierce, strategically situated within easy trucking distance of the entire citrus belt, ships almost as much citrus fruit as is shipped from anywhere else in Florida. Here, as in the other ports, are provided not only the pre-cooling stations necessary to bring oranges and grapefruit down to the temperature at which they will best stand shipment, but cold-storage warehouses in which boxes of fruit can be held awaiting shipment until market conditions and prices are favorable. Regular lines of refrigerated ships make scheduled trips several times a week in the citrus season between Fort Pierce and New York, to supply the Eastern market with a steady flow of fruit in prime condition. Most of the Indian River premium crop is shipped by this route.

The opening up of these new ports and water transportation systems has resulted, since 1935, in reducing the freight rate on citrus fruit from central and southern Florida points to New York, most of the benefit of the reduction going to the growers.

The quality and marketability of Florida citrus is steadily improving as the groves which have been planted since the middle 1920′s, and devoted to the varieties most readily sal able, come into bearing and the older groves of the varieties which were grown, as it were, primarily as household pets, reflecting more the individual tastes of their owners than the commercial possibilities of their product, are being abandoned and replaced.

So far we have been talking about oranges (including tangerines) and grapefruit, which are what Florida thinks of first when one mentions citrus fruits. But two other citrus fruits are beginning to figure with increasing importance in the state’s agricultural picture. These are Perrine lemons and Persian limes.

Florida has always grown lemons, which the Spaniards introduced at the same time they planted their orange trees. For a hundred years limes have been grown on the Keys and else where in the extreme southern part of the state. But neither has been a commercial crop of consequence in Florida until recent years. Indeed, until California obtained tariff protection for its lemon groves against the importations from Sicily, practically all of the lemons consumed in the United States were imported from the Mediterranean. Now most of the lemon consumption is supplied from California, with Florida just beginning to be a factor in this growing market. Florida still buys every year nearly $2,000,000 worth of lemons from California. For a number of years California had a plant quarantine against Florida grapefruit, and in retaliation Florida quarantined California lemons, buying its entire supply from Italy.

Wild lemons are common enough, like wild oranges, all over southern Florida. Their fruit is large, thick-skinned and almost juiceless. It is so rough that the generic term “rough lemon” is applied to these trees, cuttings or seedlings of which are highly regarded as a sturdy, frost-resisting stock upon which to graft both oranges and grapefruit.

The varieties of lemons which grew well in California and Italy were found unsuitable to the Florida climate and soil. After several years of experiment, however, by Dr. Walter T. Swingle and Dr. David Fairchild of the U. S. Bureau of Plant Industry, a new breed of lemon was developed by crossing the Sicilian lemon with the wild Mexican lime of the Florida Keys. The Mexican lime was brought to Florida in 1836 by Dr. Henry Perrine, and the new variety of lemon was named in his honor.

The Perrine lemon is a thin-skinned, juicy fruit with the full lemon flavor, which comes to maturity unblemished and free from disease. It is peculiarly immune to many of the para sites and blights against which other citrus fruit have to be protected. It absorbs more water and hence requires more irrigation than oranges or grapefruit, and offers a somewhat different problem of fertilization, but it bears fruit profusely and continuously throughout the year. On a lemon tree one may see buds, blossoms, young fruit and mature fruit all at one time at any season.

The profit in lemon growing in Florida, as reported by the owners of the still comparatively few groves of Perrine lemons, is materially larger per acre than it is with either oranges or grapefruit. Because the bark of the lemon tree is more tender than that of other fruits, and also because they are never dormant and the sap is circulating the year round, lemon groves are more susceptible to frost than oranges and grapefruit. The area in which they have been grown successfully so far, therefore, is limited to the sub-tropical regions south of Miami and the lower citrus belt in the Ridge section, where the hilly contour of the country provides effective air-drainage, and the presence of thousands of fresh water lakes tends to moderate winter temperatures. The largest Perrine lemon groves are located in the Ridge country, the best-known at Babson Park and DeSoto City.

The cultivation of the Perrine lemon and the Persian lime go hand-in-hand, frequently in the same groves, often on the same trees. Any variety of citrus fruit can be grafted on any other; it is not impossible, therefore, and occasionally is undertaken, more for amusement than for anything else, to grow oranges of several varieties, grapefruit, tangerines, lemons, limes and experimental hybrids of two or three of these fruit on a single tree. David C. Barrow of DeSoto City, the pioneer in practical development of the Perrine lemon, used a five acre grapefruit grove, whose trees were mainly of rough lemon stock, as the basis for his lemon grove. He substituted lemon buds for the grapefruit shoots in 1933, and in 1936 had a large and profitable crop of lemons; his 1937 lemon crop from these five acres was 2,000 boxes, which brought $3 a box net to the grower.

At the same time that he started his lemon grove Mr. Barrow budded another five acres of grapefruit stock to Persian limes. The large, thin-skinned Persian lime, whose green ish pulp contains nearly twice the juice content of the common West India lime, and whose flavor is considered by most folk more palatable, since it is free from the musty tang of the common variety, was introduced into Florida in 1897 from Tahiti, where it had in turn been brought from Persia. It has the same ever-bearing habit, requires precisely the same kind of cultivation and fertilization as the Perrine lemon, and is therefore a “natural” for the lemon grower. Mr. Barrow’s thousand boxes of limes in 1937 were sold under contract at $6 a box, making a high return on five acres of grove.

Not enough Florida lemons and limes had been marketed up to the end of 1937 to figure in the statistical crop reports, but the demand for both fruits was greater than the supply. Foreseeing a steady growth for years to come in the American demand for lemons and limes, H. W. Bennett and his two sons, R. W. and T. W. Bennett, have established the largest lemon grove in Florida, 350 acres between Babson Park and Lake Wales. The Bennetts, like Mr. Barrow, have so far found this a highly profitable branch of the citrus industry; so much so, in fact, that they began in 1937 the extension of their groves to an ultimate thousand acres and the establishment of their own packing house and plant for canning or bottling lemon juice and lime juice.

It takes capital to establish a profitable citrus grove, and many investors who have been deterred from going into this fascinating field of Florida agriculture by the fear of over production and consequent unprofitable prices of oranges and grapefruit are studying the new lemon and lime branches of citrus horticulture. Initial costs are no higher, the time lag between the first grafting and profitable production is shorter, and at present and for some years to come in all probability the profits per acre are larger-always barring the possible accident of a destructive frost, which is one of the hazards which anyone must take in the effort to obtain more than ordinary normal interest on his money.