Citrus is native to the Orient, having been known in China more than 4,000 years ago. Early explorers carried citrus to the Mediterranean area of Europe. From there it was carried to the West Indies by early settlers. Citrus subsequently spread across the Americas with early explorers, missionaries and settlers.
Orchards were established along the Texas Gulf Coast in the 1880’s. The earliest record of citrus in the Lower Rio Grande Valley was seedling orange trees planted by Don Macedonio Vela at the Laguna Seca Ranch in 1882. Orchards planted on trifoliate orange rootstock over the next quarter century failed because the rootstock does not tolerate alkaline soils or saline conditions of soil and water. Charles Volz successfully established an orange orchard on sour orange rootstock in 1908.
The Texas citrus industry is almost totally located in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, with about 85 percent of the acreage in Hidalgo County, 14 percent in Cameron County and only about 1 percent in Willacy County. Although hurricanes can cause considerable tree and crop damage, the major limiting factor in Texas citrus production is the risk of severe freeze damage. The economic costs of rehabilitating and/or replanting citrus orchards following a freeze are accentuated by the costs of recapturing markets lost to competing areas during freeze recovery.
Grapefruit (67%) and oranges (32%) dominate the Texas citrus industry, as less than 100 acres of other citrus are reported. There may be good potential for small acreages of so-called specialty citrus, particularly some of the tangerines, tangelos, lemons, limes, pomelos, and others. Such specialty citrus fruits should generate high returns in both gift fruit sales and at local roadside markets, even though production and marketing risks may be somewhat higher than for traditional grapefruit and orange orchards.
The total value of the citrus industry to the Texas economy normally is more than $200 million. The total crop value to the grower usually tops $50 million annually.
The present outlook for the Texas citrus industry is fairly stable. Although the overall size of the industry has decreased to about 40 percent of that existing in 1980, the demand for premium quality Texas Rio Red grapefruit and Texas sweet oranges continues to weather the vagaries of the market.