Satsumas: Kids love'em, but greening is likely on the way here
The early returns show that satsuma oranges developed for production in South Georgia’s climate are immensely popular with kids.
“They love them,” said Ware County Farm Bureau Director Garrett Ganas. “How do you say, ‘no, stop eating them?’ Son, you want to sit down and eat a bag of oranges? Sure. Go ahead.”
Likewise, Lowndes County Extension Coordinator Jake Price let his children take some to school. They shared them with classmates and came back asking for more. With the fruit still in development, supplies were limited. The demand, though, was readily apparent.
“They’re easy to peel, seedless, they’re like Cuties and Halos, but they’re grown here in Georgia, and they can tolerate cold weather,” said Price, who spoke about satsuma research in Lowndes County during the Southeastern Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association Citrus Conference on Jan. 10. “That’s why we’re starting the satsumas and the cold-hearty varieties that we can do up here.”
Price offered tips for growers like Ganas who are interested in adding citrus groves or expanding their existing ones.
Price said growers should have a marketing plan before planting trees, even though the trees can take four or five years to reach full fruit-bearing maturity.
Then, take steps to protect them from cold temperatures. The Georgia varieties, once mature, can withstand short periods of temperatures as low as 10 to 12 degrees Fahrenheit, but taking steps to mitigate the cold will help the trees reach maturity. For instance, knowing that winds usually break on the north and west side of hills, producers should plant satsuma trees on south-facing slopes.
“There’s a lot of little things you can do to kind of help your site before you plant,” Price said.
So far, Georgia growers have planted satsumas as far north as Statesboro.
"People are rolling the dice a little bit, but so far so good. There’s no sure thing in farming,” he said, though mature trees tend to handle cold temperatures better than younger ones.
After taking weather trends into consideration, the other key threat to the oranges is citrus greening caused by bacteria spread by Asian citrus psyllids, small insects that eat stems and leaves of citrus trees. Georgia doesn’t have a greening problem yet, Price said, though the psyllids have been found in residential trees along the Georgia coast.
Price emphasized purchasing trees from a reputable source, including Florida-based USDA- approved nurseries, where the young trees are grown inside to limit exposure to the psyllids.
“You don’t want to buy trees from roadside gas stations, anything grown outside in Florida where there’s threats of citrus greening, or on the coast of Georgia and the Gulf Coast areas, where they have greening and the psyllids will transmit the greening. Don’t bring in trees from one of those areas,” Price said.
Early preparation for greening is critical to satsuma growers’ success, he said, noting that Georgia’s producers can benefit in part from the experience Florida growers have had with citrus greening. More is known now about the disease and how it spreads.
“It’s probably inevitable that we’re going to get greening in commercial groves,” Price said. “Know the ins and outs of greening because you’re going to get it.”
Ganas, a long-time pecan producer who expects to have his first marketable citrus crop in fall 2020, wanted to diversify his farm. And while the new trees present a number of challenges, the fruit seems to sell itself.
“There’s a lot of attention being paid to the health benefits of it,” Ganas said. “You’ve got something that is very attractive to mothers and children. An aspect of it that has not been spoken of much is elderly people, because of how easy the fruit is to peel. That’s not been hit on very much, but I think it could be a huge selling point for some fruit.”