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How to Start a Citrus Farming Business
A world without oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit? Unthinkable. That why world citrus production continues to grow, averaging more than 100 tons every year. More cultivated land in environmentally hospitable climates plus society’s passion for the foods, drinks and medicinal properties found under the colorful skin of citrus fruit make this a viable enterprise for anyone wishing to grow a new business. Your job? Pick the right geographic location and follow agricultural guidelines so your future’s as juicy as a Florida orange.
Purchase property in a hospitable growing zone. Choose from the biggest citrus growing regions on earth: Brazil, nations bordering the Mediterranean Ocean, the United States and China. Hone in on Spain to join the biggest single producer of citrus on the European continent.
Expect, though, to encounter a wide variety of farm sale prices, from $600 per acre-foot of undeveloped San Diego-area property to fully developed citrus farms in Reedley, Calif., selling for $395,000 and $469,000 per 20-acre tract. Florida prices also vary, from 10 farmable but unplanted acres for $175,000 and 116 acres of undeveloped farm land at $525,000 to fully planted farms averaging $975,000.
Choose an amount of property that fits your budget and your ability to farm the land.
Apply for a loan or solicit financial help from venture capitalists interested in profiting from your farm. Add the amount of farm land you plan to buy to your equipment shopping list and then add again at least 20 percent. In addition to your money request, investors want a business plan. Include a list of the machinery you’ll need to get started, such as cherry pickers, tractors and commercial watering systems so investors can assess your prospects for success. To find the going rate for new and used citrus farm equipment, turn to IRON, a firm that brokers, appraises and sells everything citrus farmers require.
Secure trees from a reputable commercial nursery. Growers recommend Briteleaf Nursery and Harris Citrus. among others. for healthy stock and great customer service. Each grower sells grafted or budded citrus trees from $15 to $30 per starter tree, with $20 (plus shipping costs) being the average for most. Follow planting recommendations by parking trees no closer than 15 feet from each other to maximize yield and land use. Be diligent about pruning and be prepared to remove unhealthy trees early.
Contract with commercial suppliers so you always have vendors ready to supply you with essential supplies like crates, fertilizer, pesticides and nutrients. Add an insurance package to your start-up list should a catastrophe — freeze, fire, flood or other acts of nature — occur before you get your grove into fruit production stages. Costs for insurance vary so widely, citrus barons advise newbies to call the Department of Agriculture for recommendations or get in touch with your state's Farm Bureau to see if they offer co-op insurance to members at group rates.
Buy an agricultural software package to manage your farm. Find citrus distributors on the Internet once your trees start producing fruit. Create a Web site to market and sell your fruit. Make arrangements with an experienced, international shipping company to handle your account. Bookmark sites broadcasting citrus farm trends and new horticultural product introductions.
Harvest your first crop between July and January. Prepare to be hypervigilant as citrus is a high-risk crop that requires an intensive management system to thrive. Schedule regular tree thinning and become an expert on citrus fruit diseases so infestations don’t spread across your orchard.
Find another line of work if you’re looking for immediate rewards. Citrus trees can take up to 10 years to fully mature.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture issues periodic warnings about shipping nursery stock so look for Web site announcements that warn shoppers about new starter tree shipment guidelines.
Based in Chicago, Gail Cohen has been a professional writer for more than 30 years. She has authored and co-authored 14 books and penned hundreds of articles in consumer and trade publications, including the Illinois-based "Daily Herald" newspaper. Her newest book, "The Christmas Quilt," was published in December 2011.