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Started with a 20-acre grove and a Missouri businessman’s curiosity, Rio Queen Citrus Inc. in Mission, TX, has over the last half-century become one of the larger grower-shippers of citrus in the Lone Star State. This year, the firm is set up for an excellent citrus season thanks to terrific weather and an early end to the California citrus season.

“Not just domestically, but globally, there is a shortage of citrus and especially grapefruit,” said President Mike Martin. “Most areas started their seasons early, so are wrapping up early. So we may be able to take advantage of a little bump in the market at the start of the season. We certainly hope so.”

Rio-Queen-1Ken Martin started Rio Queen. Today, son Mike Martin runs the day-to-day operations of what has grown to be one of the state’s top citrus and onion producers. (Photo courtesy of Rio Queen)Mother Nature has been kind to the Rio Grande Valley this year, with enough rain and sun to produce sweet fruit of decent size and little wind, preventing cosmetic worries.

“All the growers I’ve talked to report that the set is excellent, there is more fruit on the trees than last year and we have a little bit more size than last year — we still don’t have large fruit but we’re hoping some timely rain will bring on the size,” Mr. Martin said in mid-September. “A couple of rains early in the season helped bring things along and we didn’t have unseasonable winter like last year with the freezing in February [2011]. We’ve had hot days — it’s 92 today — which bring on the sweetness, and cool nights, which bring on the color. They’re starting to break now and probably by the end of next week we’ll be doing some sampling and getting ready to begin the harvest. We didn’t have many windy days this past spring, so we are optimistic about the prospect that we will see less wind scar.”

In 1966, Missouri businessman James Ware bought a small citrus grove in Mission. What was at first a hobby soon proved profitable and Mr. Ware sent his daughter and son-in-law to Texas to manage the grove. Four years later Rio Queen incorporated with Ken Martin, Mr. Ware’s son-in-law, as president, and has continued to grow and prosper under the third-generation leadership of current President Mike Martin. Today, the company owns or manages more than 5,000 acres of Texas citrus and has become one of the state’s best-known growers of oranges and red grapefruit. But it has also become the state’s top grower-shipper of onions as well as a seasonal provider of grape and cherry tomatoes and sweet Texas honeydew melon.

“We’re a true Texas grower-shipper,” Mr. Martin said. “I think Texas farmers in general and Rio Queen in particular are focusing on doing the best we possibly can and being the best at what we do and passing that on to our customers and the consumer.”