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Heading into its sixth full citrus season, Lone Star Citrus in Mission, TX, has plenty to celebrate. In short order the company has become one of the state’s top providers of citrus. The company recently inked a deal to be the exclusive provider of Texas grapefruit for Sunkist. And this season, Lone Star will mark a major milestone when it harvests the first fruit from the first trees planted in its own groves five-and-a-half years ago.

The latter is a particular source of pride for the company.

Lone-Star-2T.J. Flowers and Michael Harris of Lone Star Citrus in Mission, TX, at the Texas Produce Convention in San Antonio in August. (Photo by Chip Carter)“It’s like any kind of long-term investment that you make: When you start seeing the first returns on that it’s nice to see your patience and hard work has paid off,” said Trent Bishop, who owns Lone Star with partners Jud Flowers and T.J. Flowers. “Certainly being able to harvest that first fruit we planted five-and-a-half years ago is a little internal milestone for us that we’ve really been looking forward to.”

Not only is there fruit coming from Lone Star’s own trees, it also looks to be an excellent crop that is coming in a little early.

“Things are coming along nicely relative to where we were this time last year,” Mr. Bishop told The Produce News in mid-September. “We are in a much better situation. We will start the season at least two weeks sooner than we did last year due to some timely rains and two minor little fronts that came through recently and allowed the color to come on. I anticipate running our first fruit — juice oranges, Navels and grapefruit — the week of October 8.”

After 12 months of smaller citrus from around the world, the Texas crop seems to be sizing up again.

“There’s a very nice set of fruit on the trees. Sizing seems to be slightly better than it was this time last year — I don’t want to make it sound like we have huge fruit but we do have somewhat larger than last year. Everything is trending just a slight bit larger than last year. Last year we were coming off an extremely dry summer and a crazy freeze we had right before the set, so everything last year was a perfect storm of tough conditions to grow fruit. This year, the quality is outstanding as is the appearance, with the exception being a swath that got hit by a hailstorm back in late March. But overall the crop looks good,” Mr. Bishop said.

The earlier start to the season bodes well for the market, meaning early-season fruit will bring premium prices relative to normal.

“We’re excited and ready to get this thing going,” Mr. Bishop said. “Generally speaking, there’s a vacuum or shortage of grapefruit in the customer market due to the fact that California wrapped up early, so we seem to have a captive audience ready for us to get started. I think the market coming out will be a little bit stronger than it normally would be in early October. I don’t see that being an extremely long-term trend, but it should last at least for the introduction of the crop. Last year it took forever for the fruit to get size and maturity and by the time we got started our friends in Florida had already been going a month, so we missed a big splash coming out of the gates. This year Texas will at least be a part of the big splash coming out. California had a very good market this summer, moved a lot of fruit at a much quicker pace than they normally would have, and as a result there’s a natural vacuum in the market right now,” Mr. Bishop said. “There’s not a lot of fruit in the stores right now. The feedback we get from most of our retailers is they really look forward to this time of year because once they get Texas grapefruit in the stores that category really seems to pick up.”