Citrus Fruit Culture

By: W. H. Friend

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: August 1, 1995

Citrus fruit growing in Texas was probably begun by Spaniards who in the eighteenth century planted seven orange trees on the Laguna Seca Ranch north of Edinburg in what is now Hidalgo County. Oranges and satsumas, many from trees imported from Japan, were produced along the Texas coast in fairly large quantities as early as 1910, when 42,384 orange trees produced 10,694 boxes of oranges; shortly thereafter two citrus associations were formed-the Texas Citrus Growers' Association and the South Texas Citrus Fruit Growers' Association. The first commercial grove of grapefruit trees was planted in 1904; by 1925 approximately 80 percent of the Texas citrus crop consisted of grapefruit, the remainder of the crop being 15 percent oranges and 5 percent limes, lemons, tangerines, and kumquats. By that time the citrus fruit industry had centered in the Rio Grande valley, and more than 500 carloads of fruit were exported annually. Production along the coast to the east had practically disappeared. In 1932 there were 7,864,000 citrus trees in Texas, of which 5,966,369 were grapefruit, 1,671,758 were oranges, and the remainder were kumquats, limes, lemons, mandarins, satsumas, sour oranges, and tangelos. Hidalgo, Cameron, and Willacy counties were the largest producers. During the depression of the 1930s the growers, because of surplus production and a poor fresh-fruit market, started processing grapefruit juice, orange juice, frozen orange concentrate, and orange powder to solve their marketing problem.

Citrus fruits in the Valley, after the peak harvests of 1947 and 1948, suffered disastrous freezes in 1949 and 1951 which killed 7,000,000 of the 9,000,000 producing grapefruit and orange trees. In 1952 the citrus fruit industry began rehabilitation of its groves, while the canning industry in South Texas temporarily turned to vegetable canning. By 1959 the United States Department of Agriculture census reported that the industry had been rebuilt to the extent of 3,165,932 grapefruit trees on 2,299 farms and 2,428,543 orange trees on 2,129 farms. Approximately 39,201 lemon trees, which continued to have limited significance because of their lack of cold resistance, were reported on 298 farms; lesser production of limes, tangerines, kumquats, and other citrus fruits was also reported in that year. In 1964 the Texas citrus fruit industry produced 2,400,000 boxes of grapefruit valued at $8,016,000 and 1,000,000 boxes of oranges valued at $3,810,000. Tangerines, tangelos, and tangors, as well as limes, kumquats, and various ornamental hybrids such as calamondin and citrangequats, continued to have only small acreage in Texas. In 1966 Texas produced 5,600,000 boxes of grapefruit valued at $10,152,000 and 2,800,000 boxes of oranges valued at $5,808,000, placing it second and third, respectively, in the nation in production of these fruits. The 1967–68 crop harvested by December 1968, however, totaled only 2,800,000 boxes of grapefruit and 1,800,000 boxes of oranges. Production for the 1968–69 season was estimated to be 6,500,000 boxes of grapefruit and 4,100,000 boxes of oranges, a 126 percent increase over the 1966 crop and a 230 percent increase over the 1967 crop. Production for the 1970–71 season was estimated to be 10,000,000 boxes of grapefruit and 5,900,000 boxes of oranges of all varieties. In 1982–83 growers were able to sell grapefruit for only $2.16 a box and oranges at $4.65 a box. They sold a total of 16.9 million boxes with a value of $50,550,000. In 1985 Texas growers had 30,600 acres planted with citrus trees, with the majority of the acreage devoted to grapefruit and oranges. A freeze in 1983 had killed more than half of the state's 8,072,640 citrus trees. A freeze in 1989 wrecked citrus production in Cameron, Hidalgo, and Willacy counties. In 1991–92, grapefruit farmers harvested 65,000 boxes at $15.12 per box for a total gross of $982,800. That year, 30,000 boxes of oranges sold for $14.37 a box with a value of $431,100. Production of citrus fruits other than oranges and grapefruits continues to be limited.

J. C. Bowen, The Citrus Fruit Industry of the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas (B.B.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1925). Mariita Cecilia Conley, The Role of the Labor Contractor in the Farm Labor Market of South Texas: The Case of the Citrus Industry (M.A. thesis, University of Texas at Austin, 1976). Federal-State Market News Service, Marketing Texas Citrus (1978). Camilo Martinez, The Mexican and Mexican-American Laborers in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, 1870–1930 (Ph.D. dissertation, Texas A&M University, 1987). Eldo Smith, Progreso Haciendas: Citrus Fruit and Farm Lands in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas (Weslaco, Texas: Progreso Development Company, 1930?).
  • Agriculture
  • Products (Plant)
  • Peoples
  • Japanese
Time Periods:
  • Progressive Era

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

W. H. Friend, “Citrus Fruit Culture,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 02, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 1, 1995