The Juicy History of Florida Citrus in the News

Lightning Citrus
Image courtesy of the Jerry Chicone Jr. Florida Citrus Label Collection at the University of Florida

While Florida newspapers certainly cover history-making moments, they also serve as a chronicle of the economic and social issues facing readers at the time of publication. Within the pages of papers included in the FPRDNP, few topics are as pervasive as the state’s iconic citrus industry. It may be unsurprising that citrus news dominates a title like DeLand’s Florida Agriculturist, but the reality is news about the citrus industry frequently made headlines across the state.

Although citrus is frequently associated with Florida in terms of cultural memory, it is not native to the state. Prior to European involvement in the Americas, citrus was already a well-known and desired commodity in Europe and Asia. It is believed that “Ponce de Leon, planted the first orange trees around St. Augustine, Florida, sometime between 1513 and 1565” (Florida Citrus Mutual). Although non-native, citrus plants thrived in Florida. In fact, “by 1774, when the naturalist William Bartram traveled up the St. Johns River, he reported finding wild orange groves scattered across the higher regions of land where he camped at night” (Peggy Macdonald). As European Americans settled Florida, cultivation of citrus and transportation methods improved, and by 1893 the state was producing “more than five million boxes” of citrus fruit annually (Florida Citrus Mutual). Due to the important role citrus played in the state’s economy, our newspapers contain articles from a variety of perspectives.

Big Dipper Citrus
Image courtesy of The Jerry Chicone Jr. Florida Citrus Label Collection at the University of Florida

No single dimension of the citrus industry dominates coverage in these papers, and individuals with a variety of historical interests will enjoy searching through the collection. For example, those curious about the agricultural side of things will find stories detailing the agendas of the Florida State Horticultural Society, an organization that was actively involved in developing new and improved methods of fruit cultivation, particularly compelling.  Similarly, University of Florida aficionados may enjoy browsing issues of the Punta Gorda Herald containing the “Farm and Grove in Florida” column. Specifically reporting on research done at the UF College of Agriculture, the column includes stories demonstrating the issues facing UF scientists and Florida growers alike-especially the dreaded whitefly.

Farm and Grove title art
Farm and Grove from the Punta Gorda Herald

Individuals interested in the economic and business aspects of the citrus industry may enjoy reading the articles and advertisements by the Florida Citrus Exchange defending their distribution methods and imploring other growers to join the organization. Founded in 1909, the goal of the Exchange was to organize “Florida growers into one cooperative marketing agency.” The idea behind this was to help “improve production by sharing facilities, technology and manpower” and to “maximize returns on citrus growers’ investment, standardize operations and shipping, and increase collective volumes for nationwide marketing” according to Seald Sweet, the company that grew out of the Florida Citrus Exchange.

Fertilizer with Photo
Punta Gorda Herald May 15, 1913

Despite the technological advances related to citrus cultivation presented in these papers, it is apparent that humans were not the only actors in the citrus industry. One of the biggest adversaries to the citrus industry are the unpredictable natural disasters including hurricanes and freezes. Across all the papers in the FPRDNP, there are reports detailing the losses caused by such events. Notwithstanding the best efforts by growers to cultivate healthy crops, events like the Freezes of 1894-1895 and the 1921 Tampa hurricane were major financial and emotional setbacks. When discussing the hurricane, Ocala Evening Star estimates this particular storm did two million dollars’ worth of damage to the citrus crop in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk, Manatee, and Lee counties alone.

Moonbeam Citrus
Image courtesy of the Jerry Chicone Jr. Florida Citrus Label Collection at the University of Florida

Today, some farmers, researchers, and public policy makers are questioning the future of citrus in Florida due to citrus greening and other diseases (NPR). Although citrus trees have thrived overall since their introduction in Florida, our newspapers demonstrate that growers have long had to contend with what nature has thrown at them. Despite nature-based setbacks, our papers tell a story of human determination and perseverance among growers in the state that has helped solidify the association between the State of Florida and citrus production in the public mind.

Citations and Additional Sources

“Citrus Industry History,” Florida Citrus Mutual. accessed April 29, 2016, http://flcitrusmutual.com/citrus-101/citrushistory.aspx.

Macdonald, Peggy. “Liquid Gold: The Rise and Fall of Florida’s Family Citrus Farms.” Linkedin. Last modified August 27, 2014. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140827211124-49745237-liquid-gold-the-rise-and-fall-of-florida-s-family-citrus-farms?trk=mp-reader-card.

Allen, Greg. “How Long Can Florida’s Citrus Industry Survive?” NPR. Last modified November 27, 2015. http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/11/27/457424528/how-long-can-floridas-citrus-industry-survive.

The Jerry Chicone Jr. Florida Citrus Label Collection at the University of Florida http://ufdc.ufl.edu/citruslabel