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Fourth Generation of Johnston Farms leading citrus efforts

With more than 70 years of experience as a grower in the San Joaquin Valley, near the base of the Tehachapi mountains, Johnston Farms has seen four generations lead the company to success.

Its California citrus program has been a big reason for lasting so long, as each November through March it deals with citrus such as navel oranges and mandarins.

“The citrus season is our longest and represents somewhere between 75-80 percent of our business,” said Jaclyn Johnston Green, operations manager for the Edison, CA-based company. “We have 10 weeks of potatoes and six weeks of Bell peppers, so citrus is definitely the most important.”

The navels are about to get underway, on Nov. 11, and that’s not only the biggest crop, but Green noted it’s probably the most delicious as well.

BlueJay-18-3 4-view200ppi “The category has grown for us quite a bit over the years,” she said. “Our first trees came in the ’60s, and before that we were mostly potatoes and cotton. But over the years, it’s become the dominant crop and it continues to increase each year.”

The biggest growth Johnston Farms has seen is in its satsumas, with many companies getting out of that market, providing a nice boost to its efforts there.

“The key to success in citrus is in getting the high quality,” Green said. “We don’t hold any inventory here. That helps the most with getting things out the door, so when it gets to the customer it’s fresh and juicy.”

Coming off a rough 2018 in the citrus category, things didn’t start off any better at the beginning of the year for most California citrus growers, but things seem to be turning around in the latter part of 2019.

“Last year, there was a lot of small fruit, and personally we are seeing bigger sizes and better quality, so barring any crazy weather, we’re hoping the beginning of this season is going to be a whole lot better,” Green said.

Not that there aren’t still issues. Green noted the biggest one being the ACP (Asian citrus psyllid, a sap-sucking, hemipteran bug in the family Liviidae), which is prevalent in Los Angeles County, and growers are trying their best to control this pest.

“We are working with the state to make sure we can use the pesticides that we need to use to fight the disease, and transporting everything to keep it out,” Green said. “It hit Florida so hard and California has been very proactive of staying ahead of it, but it’s still an uphill battle.”

Around the company, Johnston Farms just updated the box for its satsumas and retailers are excited about getting those on the shelves.

“We’re always excited when we start harvesting those; it’s just candy on a tree,” Green said.

With the holidays coming up, the company will also have a holiday box that it packs its satsumas in. That rolls out around Thanksgiving, and then there’s a special Chinese New Year’s box that follows.

“We’re working locally with a new business that works with farmers in the area to showcase their products, and right after Christmas, we are going to work with them on a citrus showcase,” Green said. “That’s going to be a lot of fun.”