Florida's Citrus History

February 07, 2023   |   Citrus

Known for its citrus production, the Sunshine State holds an interesting history in regards to its agricultural advances.

Have you ever wondered why Miami has a football game called the Orange Bowl? Or why Orlando has a stadium called the Citrus Bowl? Or why oranges have become a staple in the state’s public image? For many years, rows of impressive citrus trees have become an iconic symbol of Florida’s landscape and history, but have you ever wondered how this connection was first established?

Citrus Before Florida

Believe it or not, the citrus industry was not pioneered within the “Sunshine State”. Citrus is actually originated out of ancient Asia where it is believed to have been found in the continent’s subtropical regions. More specifically, the Chinese cultivated many varieties of oranges and other citrus over several centuries before the fruit was introduced to the western world. Eventually in 310 B.C., citrus was brought to Europe via trade routes from Asia. Various types of citrus fruit were developed over the following years from sweet oranges, to sour oranges, lemons, and the precursor to the grapefruit called “pummelo”.

The Story of Citrus in Florida

While citrus was first brought to the Americas in 1493, it was not introduced to Florida until sometime between 1513 and 1565 when Spanish pioneers would find settlement within the future state. The grapefruit was brought to Florida in the early 1800s by French Count, Odet Philippe.

Over time, citrus experienced a tremendous boost in popularity as profit-seeking settlers moved south and groves began to populate Florida’s agricultural landscape. Very quickly, citrus became a central part of the state’s iconic image as northerners were searching for intense and effective investment strategies. This led to an explosion in citrus farming that peaked in 1893 when 5 million boxes of citrus were produced out of the tropical state.

Disaster struck in 1894 and 1895 as the Great Freeze devastated Central Florida’s agricultural industry, reduced its citrus harvest to under 200 boxes, and decimated most of its groves. With time, the industry would adjust as many groves migrated to the southern part of the state and farmers began developing more effective techniques to safeguard against a freeze. By the early 1900’s, Florida began producing over 10 million boxes per year.

Less than a century later, Florida faced another series of freezes in the 1980s which pushed citrus production even further south. It wasn’t until a few decades later that Central Florida would once again become one of the citrus industry’s top producers.

Citrus in Florida Today

Today, Florida is one the nation’s largest producers of oranges and grapefruit with Polk County leading the way. California has been a great competitor as recent hurricanes have restricted Florida’s citrus production. In recent years, Florida’s citrus industry would peak at around 77.9 million boxes of fruit on 437,000 acres of land, employing over 45,000 people, and generating $8.6 billion for the state’s economy.

Recent hurricanes have affected these numbers greatly. One of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's latest reports estimated last year’s production to equal around 44.75 million boxes of citrus. While devastating, this leaves massive room for growth. Headed into the next year, Florida’s citrus industry can expect a massive boom as its groves head down the path of redevelopment. Investors should heavily consider venturing into this industry and SVN | Saunders Ralston Dantzler is already at the forefront of this growth. Contact one of our expert land advisors today to discuss investment opportunities within the citrus industry.

Richard Dempsey
Richard is a proud Central Florida native. Raised in Lakeland Florida, Richard would obtain a fond admiration for the Sunshine State’s natural beauty along with a bright-eyed vision into its future. He holds a strong reverence for the state’s fascinating history along with the mul...