A new logo, revamped website, infrastructure and a busy citrus season that is ramping up as PMA Fresh Summit in New Orleans Oct. 18-21 gets underway have things hopping at Lone Star Citrus Growers in Mission, TX. The company will be exhibiting at Booth No. 5238.
Now in its seventh season, “We’re a growing company,” said partner and Vice President of Sales Trent Bishop. “We’re investing in new technology and opening up another production component in the packing plant, all automated. We’re adding a new bagger and we’ve also brought in two soft-touch packing machines that will bulk-pack grapefruit and oranges. With our expected growth this year, we needed to make sure we had the added production capacity to keep up so we’ve reinvested in some equipment to increase our production.”
Amidst a near-record drought, Lone Star is thriving.
“When you look at this crop that’s hanging on the trees right now you would never know we were in a drought,” Bishop said. “Even though we still find ourselves in the midst of a historical drought, we have had some timely and widespread rains that have been just enough to cover most all of the acreage over the last 90 days — some areas have actually received several rains. That is always welcome in the heat of the south Texas summer.”
But Texas citrus growers do not rely on rain alone to make a crop, of course. The state’s citrus belt runs across the Rio Grande Valley in the southernmost part of Texas, east to west along the Mexican border. The valley is irrigated by water from two reservoirs on the Rio Grande River. Water allotments are prized — and sometimes traded — by growers. Any rain at all is like an unexpected bonus in a paycheck.
“When we get some of these timely rains we can save some of those irrigations that we would otherwise pull out of those reservoirs for later use. Any time you can get a bonus from Mother Nature, it’s a good thing,” Bishop said. “Water is a bigger issue in Texas than most people realize. On everything that’s company owned, we have installed micro-jet irrigation. This is just one way that we are doing our part to make sure we spread our water allocations as far as they can go. We have a very clear-cut water plan in place to make sure that we’re planning for the future as far out as we can. We realize that in order to have next year’s crop, we have to have water for next year’s crop. As such, there are already plans in place to make sure not only that we have a crop this year but that we’ve got a crop next year as well.”
The company also recently redesigned its logo and launched a revamped website to tell its own story and that of Texas citrus history.
“We wanted to make sure we were keeping our image relevant. We wanted to make sure our website is informative and drive traffic with content about our company as well as information about our industry,” Bishop said. “It’s our intention going forward to do a series of videos that will educate the citrus buying public with exactly what goes into the process of harvesting, packing and shipping Texas citrus. Over time, we want this website to be a true resource for anybody who wants to know anything about Texas citrus.”
Water is not the only potential threat to Texas citrus. In January 2012, HLB — citrus greening disease — was discovered in a couple of trees in a single Rio Grande Valley grove. Coordinated spraying for the Asian citrus psyllid that carries the disease — a practice that has helped Florida citrus growers battle the pest to a temporary draw — has since kept it at bay. There have been no new incidents reported since the original finding — remarkable given the fact that, unchecked, HLB can destroy a grove in two years.
“The fact that we are inspecting more than ever and have not had another occurrence in a year and a half should be a testament to the programs that we have in place. I am very grateful for the professionals within the Texas A&M University system and our industry in general who are out there daily monitoring and educating the public. Their results are speaking for themselves,” Bishop said. “That’s not to say we’re in the clear by any means, but the fact that they have been able to fend it off and combat it like they have is a true testament to their hard work and expertise.”
Lone Star farms its own groves and also works with other grower-partners. Aside from the groves that the company owns that are already in production, they have also stagger-planted each year with an eye on the future.
“We will grow exponentially by the year as more and more groves come into production,” he said. “Meanwhile, we’ve also managed to forge expanded partnerships with some of our large, independent growers that will also increase volume.”
Lone Star Citrus is now fully PTI-compliant with item-level traceability via print-and-apply PLU labels with the company’s unique GTIN information.
Last year, Lone Star opened its facilities to outside cross-docking and cold storage and that business has grown too.
“We are doing some offseason cold storage with one partner and it’s actually going to feed into a year-round program,” Bishop said. “That should lead to the potential of us being an attractive consolidation pick up point for our mutual customers to load in one spot. We have plenty of room to take on more cross-docking and cold storage business.”